In the early 21st Century a paroxysm of rage and indignation arose against the symbols and statues of the Confederacy that was expressed by the defacing of graves, widespread destruction and vandalism of Confederate monuments on both public and private property, in parks, on battlefields and even in museums. The time came to be known as The Great Confederate Cleansing. The movement is generally considered to have fueled the growth of more radical hate groups and to have lowered the tone of racial discussion.
Highly unlikely, one speculates, that this would be an accurate description of future American history books but at the least one might admit that the seeds for such have been sown.
More likely, and greatly more preferable would be,
In the early 21st Century the rise of more militant neo-Nazi white supremacist groups was accompanied by a broad reexamination of many aspects of race relations. A loose network emerged where municipalities, communities, school districts established multi-racial committees to identify issues of concern, hold hearings, and solicit input. As a result, communities agreed on the renaming of some buildings, parks, and institutions, the relocation of some Confederate monuments, the addition of material providing context to others, and the agreement to leave others in place without change. The compromise movement is generally credited with lowering racial tension.
It may surprise non-southern Southern Baptists, a minority group among us, that these Confederate monuments, place names, and other reminders of the bloody Civil War are ubiquitous in the South. They are on courthouse squares, along major streets, in cemeteries, public parks, and other places. The names of Lee, Davis, Jackson and other lesser Confederates adorn hundreds of buildings, schools, and parks. These have existed in silence, some for a century and a half, but get occasional scrutiny. Manifestly, we are in a phase of the latter.
They are ignored by most, touted by some, and are considered offensive by some. We’ve seen some of these changed by community agreement, some removed in the dark of night by government fiat, and many recently defaced and vandalized.
It’s a complicated matter that can’t be solved with the simplistic syllogisms of the radical leftists (slavery is evil; those who fought to preserve slavery are evil) nor with the defiant calls by the preservationists to maintain the status quo. The history of all of these things is varied. They are not all sanctified by the preservationists claim of heritage nor are all made odious by the other side’s invoking of racism, Jim Crow, and segregation.
I have an opinion but am open to being persuaded away from all or part of it.
These seem to be easy:
- Cemeteries should be sacrosanct. There is no justification for a movement to alter any grave whether in a public or private cemetery.
- Monuments, flags, building names, and other reminders of the Confederacy on private property are protected. Absent some legal basis, these stay.
- Museums should be considered by all a place to display history and should be free to do so. Communities can debate what constitutes appropriately inclusive reminders of history.
- Battlefields are museums and should be protected.
These seem reasonable to change:
- Names, statues, flags established or erected in defiance of integration and the civil rights movement.
These are harder:
- Confederate statues on courthouse squares and in parks.
- Public buildings named after Confederates.
- Statues in statehouses and federal buildings.
Most of us understand political power. If we go through the process whereby the Georgia legislature votes to remove the statue of the virulent racist Vice President of the CSA, Alexander H. Stephens, from the capitol rotunda and put Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statue in its place. So be it. Everyone had a vote, at least indirectly on this. If counties agree to relocate the magnificent equestrian statues of Lee and Jackson from courthouse squares, so be it, even if most people have ignored them for a century or more. It would be helpful if these could be treated respectfully and relocated appropriately if that is the community’s decision.
The criminal vandals should be prosecuted. The cowardly public officials that send equipment in the dead of night to move statues should be shamed and thrown out of office. The shrill voices of the extremists on both sides should be ignored. The questionable history offered by both sides should be discarded. Those who use these things as proxies for spewing their hatred should be condemned by all.
Many people have spent much longer that I ruminating on these things. I’d be interested to hear your view.