Removal of Confederate Monuments and Memorials

A toppled Confederate statue lies on the ground on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in Durham, N.C. Activists on Monday evening used a rope to pull down the monument outside a Durham courthouse. The Durham protest was in response to a white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville, Va, over the weekend. (Virginia Bridges/The Herald-Sun via AP)

The protests following the death of African American George Floyd at the knees of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, quickly morphed into a collective demand for racial justice, under the theme Black Lives Matter, and the removal of symbols of the dark periods of racism in America.

Across America, and particularly in the southern states, some of the reminders of the darkest period of racism are the vast number of monuments, including statues, memorializing men who were instrumental in leading or participating in the four years, 1861-1865, American Civil War. Confederate southern states fought to continue the system of slavery and secede from the then union, while the northern states retaliated to maintain the original union and abolish slavery.

Although the Confederates lost the war, that loss and the right to treat freed Blacks as equal to the general white race was never accepted by that and subsequent generations in the south.  

Another devastating period of racial oppression followed, with Jim Crow—a racially segregated era during which strict laws were enforced to separate the black and white races, mostly in the former confederate states.

It was during the late 19th century to as recent as 1964, that the vast majority of confederate monuments existing today were erected. The spread of these Confederate monuments followed the erection of union monuments, commemorating the Civil War victory, in the northern states between 1880 and 1918.

While those responsible for erecting Confederate monuments, and their subsequent defenders, have argued the monuments were built to memorialize the history of the so-called Confederate civil war heroes, many opponents view them as symbols used to intimidate African Americans and reaffirm white supremacy.

Efforts to remove these Confederate monuments and memorials, including the Confederate flag, have been ongoing in America for several decades.  

It’s noticeable each time protests arise in America over racial injustice, there’s renewed call to remove Confederate memorials. In recent years, these calls were strong after a self-described white supremacist killed African-American members of a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015; after the confrontation between white supremacists participating in a rally, and opposing protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, and more recently following the killing of George Floyd.

The current effort to remove the monuments seems to be the most aggressive. Several monuments have been forcibly removed by protestors, and in some cities, officials have agreed to remove them.

There’s little doubt that the presence of these Confederate memorials over a hundred years after the Confederates lost a civil war over the right to enslave black people is a source of disrespect and racial alienation for African Americans. Today they are highly politicized symbols, dividing supports along party and racial lines. 

It’s as if the modern-day supporters of Confederates who lost the Civil War still have not accepted the loss. They seem determined to use the monuments as a reminder of why the war was fought, and still don’t respect the fact that black people are equal to them.

Although proponents for retaining these Confederate monuments insist those depicted should be memorialized as heroes of an era of American history, many find this insistence unacceptable. The men depicted in these Confederate monuments were participants in a treasonous movement. A movement in which an entire community of humans were dehumanized, and degraded. A movement during which half of the southern states fought against the established union, bent on creating an alternative union which if they had succeeded would have placed African Americans in a constitutional minority caste.

On the other hand, the American Civil War was a very pivotal era of American history that preserved the unity of the federation and entrenched the constitutionality of racial equality. It can be justifiably argued aspects of this era should be preserved for posterity to learn of this bitter strife that cost the lives of an estimated 618,000 Americans; 360,000 from the North, including some 40,000 black soldiers, and 258,000 from the South.  

Some people suggest that while it’s worthy to preserve aspects of the civil war for posterity, the controversy over the monuments would be alleviated by confining them to a sprawling federally owned American Civil War heritage park, which would include both Union monuments and Confederate ones. Whether this is the answer is debatable.

But this much is certain—Confederate monuments placed in high-profiled locations in American cities are a humiliating reminder to a race still seeking to establish its constitutional equality. In fact, Confederate monuments in public places, outside a designated museum, implies the fight to dominate the black race isn’t over. 

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