by Diane Rufino, March 16, 2023
RESOLUTION – PRESERVING CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS, & PRESERVING THE MEMORY OF THE CONFEDERACY
“A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and corrects them.”—President George W. Bush.
Whereas, it has been said: “You can’t change history, but you can and should learn from it.” The meaning of this statement is that studying the past is a good beginning to understanding history, because to learn from history, one must first learn what actually happened in the past;
Whereas, history comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts;
Whereas, a monument or memorial is not history itself but rather, it commemorates a particular aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who or which event would be honored in a community’s public spaces;
Whereas, monuments and memorials, as well as the naming of streets, buildings, and public spaces document the chronology of our American history;
Whereas, all across the country, communities are making decisions about the disposition of Confederate monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of street names, public spaces, and buildings;
Whereas, these decisionsrequire not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments and memorials were built and streets, spaces and buildings named, but also an understanding
of what history is, what purpose it serves, and why it matters to public culture;
Whereas, for all the tough talk about the problems with these historical monuments, there honestly hasn’t been enough discussion of their history – not nearly enough;
Whereas, understanding the specific historical context of Confederate monuments in America is imperative to informed public debate; It should always be encouraged to have honest and accurate discussions in publications, in other venues of scholarship and teaching, and more broadly in public culture and Confederate monuments, memorials, etc provide a perfect opportunity for such discussions and for such learning opportunities;
Whereas, communities entertaining decisions about the disposition of Confederate monuments and memorials or the renaming of street names, buildings, and public spaces must fully understand and appreciate the significance of said statues and the names designating street names, buildings, and spaces;
Whereas, decisions to remove said monuments and memorials, as well as decisions to remove the names of street signs, buildings, parks, and other public spaces that reference historic Confederate figures or the Confederacy in general call attention to a previous interpretation of history – one which they believe is harmful to our current communities. They argue that Confederatemonuments and memorials statues must go because they remind “us” constantly of a past that needs only to be overcome and forgotten;
Whereas, to remove is to forget…. To remove and forget is to erase vital eras in our nation’s history;
Whereas, debates over removal of monuments should consider chronology and other evidence that provide context for why an individual or event has been commemorated. Knowledge of such facts enables a successful debate on the particular issue and a decision that can be said “learns from history”;
Whereas, the majority monuments and memorials were erected not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but from the close of the 19th century into the second decade of the 20thcentury. As the veterans of the war began to die, there was a renewed push for reconciliation between North and South;
Whereas, the monuments reflect more than one current of early twentieth-century America; they served to venerate Confederate heroes like Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis and to honor the memory of the Confederacy, thereby cementing the narrative of the its plight and its cause;
Whereas, the monuments and memorials, as well as the naming of public spaces, street names, and buildings, commemorated (and continue to commemorate and memorialize) not only the Confederacy but also the status of the South after Reconstruction;
Whereas, Confederate memorials were erected also as an outpouring of grief and remembrance for the hundreds of thousands who had died in the war (nearly a quarter of Southern white men in their twenties were killed in action, in prison camps, or died from disease);
Whereas, the purpose of Confederate monuments and memorials was also to convey to future generations why so many people kept fighting, for years even in the face of eventual defeat, and in the face of staggering casualties. For the ordinary soldiers who fought and died, devotion to the Confederate army did not arise primarily from a devotion to the institution of slavery (just as most Union soldiers were not fighting primarily to end slavery) but from a devotion to their home states and a sense of honor and duty to defend them from what they considered to be an invading army, and more importantly, to the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence;
Whereas, the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 and protests elsewhere (including Chapel Hill, NC) indicate that some consider Confederate monuments to be symbols of white supremacy and invoke them as such;
Whereas, memorials to the Confederacy may have likely been intended, in part, to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life (or as certain members of society would have us believe), the more likely explanation is that they were intended to honor and memorialize the Confederacy, the great historical Confederate figures, and the Confederate cause;
Whereas, decisions to remove Confederate monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of street names, public spaces, and buildings are blatant attempts to erase history and to coerce the citizenry into a forced interpretation of what they represent;
Whereas, the only thing that changes with such removals is what the government and what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor;
Whereas, the attention to such Confederate monuments and memorials, street names, building names, and public spaces has become the latest way to re-invigorate the sins of racism and white supremacy;
Whereas, even though the Confederate states were wrong about slavery, it does not excuse us today from the burden of trying to understand what motivated them to fight;
Whereas, on Memorial Day in 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Union veteran who saw a great deal of action, talked about the importance of transmitting the emotional weight of the war from one generation to the next, and he specifically mentions the role of monuments. He said: “I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statues and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life could be;”
Whereas, for Holmes, it was also the duty of Civil War veterans themselves to convey the significance of the war to posterity, as he articulated with these words: “The generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire… we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after;”
Whereas, the fact that Confederate statues/monuments and memorial were erected in prominent public places is itself a powerful lesson in American history – a testament to our turbulent past that would be diminished if they were removed to a sanitized display in a museum;
Whereas, we should consider this: If we tear down statues of Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and other distinguished Confederate generals and soldiers, would activists then demand the removal of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson – perhaps even from the National Mall in DC. Will such decisions begin a dangerous slippery slope?
LET IT BE RESOLVED that removing Confederate monuments and memorials, removing Confederate names from street names, buildings, and public spaces diminishes historical scholarship and takes our country closer to historical ignorance;
LET IT BE RESOLVED that remembering is powerful; it forces us to become wiser. We think of the words ‘Never Forget’ and we instantly remember 9-11 or the Holocaust. We connect because we remember. We remember because of the monuments and the memorials. Do they offend certain individuals? Do they trigger certain individuals? Certainly they do. But we can’t take the chance of allowing history to forget these historical events and so the statues and monuments and memorials must continue to stand and teach…. To teach us to be better human beings and a better country
LET IT BE RESOLVED that a more mature society would recognize that the past is always with you and must always be kept in mind (There’s a reason Christians in Rome didn’t topple all the pagan statues and buildings in the city, or raze the Colosseum. Edmund Burke had strong words for the French during their revolution, while they were doing their best to destroy a rich past and slaughter one another in the process);
LET IT BE RESOLVED that no one should fear 150-year-old statues of historic dead white men. The problem is now, in real time, how people harbor racial prejudice and racist hearts. It’s human nature. W need to eradicate that hatred and racist sentiment, put out the flame of racism rather than fanning it instead of bowing to the leftist agenda that demands we tear down Confederate monuments and memorials, and the naming of streets, buildings, and public spaces to honor Confederate history;
LET IT BE RESOLVED that just as we cannot tell people not to buy Nazi paraphernalia or display them in their homes (no matter how abhorrent we may find it), we likewise cannot tell people they are not allowed to honor family members who fought for the confederacy or that their forbears could not raise monuments to southern heroes like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, both of whom were decorated and beloved West Point graduates and union officers before the south seceded from the union in rebellion (Jefferson Davis was also a West Point graduate and a beloved US Senator before the Union split). Robert E. Lee’s family owned slaves yet he is widely regarded as the greatest of Civil War generals;
LET IT BE RESOLVED that we can’t hide from our racist, slave owning, segregated past by erasing monuments and other statues to the Confederacy and important Confederate figures. If we start taking statues down, statues of Thomas Jefferson (master of a slave who was his mistress and mother of at least four of his children), George Washington (who personally owned about 125 slaves), James Madison (who owned about 100 slaves), and Andrew Jackson (who owned about 160 slaves) will soon follow. This is not a direction we should go.
LET IT BE RESOLVED that Confederate monuments and memorials, as well as the names of streets, buildings, and public spaces honoring the Confederacy MUST continue to stand as a memorial of our past history – when Southern states intentionally left the Union to form a new nation, when ancestors fought and died for a cause they believed in, and when heroes were raised.
FINALLY, LET IT BE RESOLVED that a wise people and a wise country don’t tear down objects of history because of their ability to offend and incite riots; rather, they embrace them and learn from them. What they represent, with different people seeing different interpretations, must enlighten and guide our future… to make us an even more perfect Union.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE:
Communities should be encouraged to remember that all monuments and memorials are artifacts of a particular time and place. They should be preserved, just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue – preferably in public view, in a common area. If they absolutely must be removed, for example, to build a highway or revitalize an area or property, photographs and measurements (in their original contexts) should be taken prior to removal. These documents should accompany the memorials as part of the historical record. Decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals and officials who have been distinguished by history creates a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents, or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years. George Washington owned enslaved people, but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves but the Jefferson Monument exists because he drafted one of our most precious and defining documents (The Declaration of Independence), the Northwest Ordinance, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and he is responsible for our nation obtaining a large addition – the Louisiana Purchase. There is already, in current discussions of these great Founding Fathers, a dual lesson – first that they owned slaves, and second, that they did some important things. Slavery, of course, is the poison that will destroy our history.
The liberal left believes that there should be no display (monument, memorial, or statue) in public spaces, at any public school or university, or names on any public building that potentially can “trigger” or offend or cause psychological harm to any individual (except conservatives – especially religious ones). We must not forget our American history, good or bad. Confederate statues, monuments, and memorials are works of “free expression,” which, in this country, are sacred. Not every statue or piece of public art has to comfort and console us; sometimes they should oblige us to grapple with our nation’s history and the various facets of an often dark human nature.
Lastly, it is, and would be, a mistake to remove Confederate monuments and memorials, etc not because there was anything noble about the Confederacy or its acceptance and dependence on slavery, but because there is something noble about preserving our history so we can understand who we are and how we should live.