Emily Kowalik ‘18
Statues of Confederate generals and politicians, like Robert E. Lee, evoke strong feelings in many people, black and white. These statues have become symbols. Some view them as glorifying a fight for white supremacy, while others believe they were erected in the memory of war dead and are not monuments related to race. Regardless of viewpoint, they have become a magnet for civil unrest and debate.
Should they be destroyed? Should we sit back as crowds topple them? Perhaps not.
But, should they continue to hold a place of prominence in the parks and squares of cities and towns across America? No.
Perhaps removal is the answer. But, is removing them an effort to erase a piece of history that embarrassing to us? And, what part of history?
Many Confederate monuments date to the period after World War I, a period of Jim Crow laws in America, a time when the South was fighting to resist political rights for black citizens. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained why his city removed its Confederate monuments from their pedestals, explaining they “were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadow who was still in charge.”
And, if we do remove them – where to? At least 1,500 monuments exist in Charlottesville, Gainesville, Fla., Durham, N.C., and Baltimore.
What do we do with them when they’re removed? How do we develop a strategy for disposing of the Confederacy’s monuments while preserving evidence of this painful chapter of our past? Can we escape accusations of the erasure of history, while still purging the imagery of statues and monuments that celebrate a painful past?
Maybe we should borrow ideas from the many countries across the globe that have grappled with how to handle relics of unsavory chapters in their history.
In Budapest, all the Communist-era propagandist sculptures were moved to an open-air museum about dictatorship called Memento Park. In Berlin, “The Topography of Terror” Museum now houses the sobering reminders of the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Confederate monuments are like their Communist counterparts in Budapest and Nazi monuments in Germany; they have no artistic merit – I side with those that believe Confederate monuments were erected as pieces of propaganda.
But, is rushing to destroy every Confederate monument within reach a knee-jerk overcompensation for decades of turning a blind-eye? Americans should hold the painful debates necessary to decide the fate of these Confederate monuments, simply destroying them does not remove the history behind them.
However, if we are to preserve the statues then where do they go? If we choose to give credence to those who view the monuments as memorializing the Civil War dead, then perhaps the best answer is to move the monuments to Confederate cemeteries. Bury the monuments that glorify the cause of the Civil War with those who fought for it.