The ax forgets, the tree remembers. — African proverb
Is removing Confederate monuments like erasing history? Debates about the appropriateness of honoring Confederate legends with memorials, eponymous roads, streets and buildings are taking place nationwide. Reports identify some 1,500 memorials to the Civil War’s losing cause, from schools to state holidays. But is removing the monuments in the best interests of blacks?
The push to take down the monuments has momentum. Cities from St. Louis to Orlando are considering removing their Confederate memorials. New Orleans is the most prominent city to take down memorials for Confederates. In Charlottesville, Virginia, torch-wielding protesters have marched in support of keeping a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in a city park. Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer pushed back, saying: “We reject this intimidation.”
In response to the removal of the Jefferson Davis monument in his New Orleans hometown, National Urban League (NUL) President and CEO Marc H. Morial said: “Symbols honoring leaders that defended slavery serve only to divide and demean our nation and our city.” The NUL is tepid on the subject of “Black Reparations” and avoids the word as “highly charged.” The group advocates government action to close gaps between whites and blacks.
To counter monument supporters, Alabama lawmakers approved sweeping protections for Confederate monuments, names and other historic commemorations. The measure prohibits “the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, street, or monument” that has stood on public property for 40 or more years.” Changes to names or memorials installed between 20 and 40 years ago would need permission from a state commission.
Confederate flag defenders claim it represents “heritage, not hate.” In their opposition to the bill, Alabama’s African-American lawmakers said the flag “solidifies a shameful legacy of slavery.” To Confederate scholars, adherents and “good ol’ boys,” the issue represents a “scorched-earth approach.”
Why don’t we let them celebrate their lineage? It could start a national discussion on what should, and should not, be represented on the streets of New Orleans. What sites are there to represent slave markets? After decades standing sentinel, New Orleans’ Confederate monuments are all gone, with a likeness of Gen. Lee the last to go amid debate over whether they represented Southern heritage or were symbols of slavery and oppression of blacks. So when advocates say that the monuments in question are history, it immediately begs the question: where are payments to blacks for their ancestors’ free and forced labor?
Don’t blacks have bigger fish to fry than to force sons of the South to put treasured monuments in trash heaps?
Supporters of the monuments believe that the statues and obelisks represent Southern heritage. What they represent is a whitewashing of history: the secession and Confederacy. Movies like “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind,” along with countless print volumes, have been dedicated to this revisionism of history. Consequently, it’s became publicly acceptable to have monuments to traitors in city squares in New Orleans and Richmond, Virginia.
The profit/loss equation of the events is that the only return blacks have gotten from the ideological tussle is satisfaction of the Confederates’ “losses.” Why not give them their “revisionist history” as long as descendants of slaves get paid their due? Men like Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Beauregard were traitors against the republic that took up arms after an illegal secession. They did so in the name of preserving slavery, the backbone of the Southern economy built upon the subjugation of men and women who were considered subhuman.
The hint of “white superiority” drives many blacks to pointless protests. Why do blacks continue engaging in symbolism in place of practices of justice and substance? Far too many of us are part of a “stuck on stupid” collective that will gather to demand “they” tear down confederate monuments, but shy away from legislation to bring about an apology for slavery and just recompense. Symbolism protests are distractions from collective procedures to bring about real equity. At every gathering to depose Confederate memorials, somebody should stand in our ancestors’ steed gathering signatures for H.R. 40.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.