During a trip to Washington, D.C. a few years ago, I traversed the National Mall to take in some of the nation’s most iconic structures.
Coming across the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Wall was, in a word, sobering. Having only seen it in pictures or video before that day, I took notice of how small the names were etched into stone. Upon that realization, the size and gravity of the wall grew exponentially.
The Washington Monument was impressive. The Lincoln Memorial was poignant. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was striking. The World War II Memorial was remarkable.
These structures celebrate and honor those who should be celebrated and honored. Those who fought for, led and changed this country for the better.
However, if these memorials did not exist or were taken down, it would not erase the sacrifice of those who served in the armed forces and those who made the ultimate sacrifice doing so. It would not wipe from the history books the leadership, direction and great deeds of men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
These monuments and memorials were erected to commemorate and pay tribute to these aspects of our country’s history because they are deserving of such distinction.
And if monuments are to celebrate, commemorate and honor, those who fought for the Confederacy, led a secession from the United States and advocated for the continuance of slavery should not be memorialized.
Doing so will not, as many have argued, be “erasing history.” Tearing down a monument does not tear out pages in the book of American history. Times change, history doesn’t. And the time has come for these celebrations of Confederates to be taken down.
It is especially true when you consider just how many of these monuments were put in place far after the initial stages of the antebellum South. Many were erected as a direct and absolute repression of black Americans.
Looking at data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are two clear periods in which monuments dedicated to Confederates were put in place along with schools, roads and the like being named after those who kept slaves and advocated for succession. The most prominent coincided with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and later, another spike during the Civil Rights Movement. The latter includes the installation of the Stone Mountain monument, the location of a Klan Labor Day cross burning for decades.
With nationwide protests crying out against racism, the calls for removing monuments dedicated to Confederates have again become louder, just as they did after nine black churchgoers were slain by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C., with his intent to start a race war.
Sadly, some even view removing monuments as a partisan issue. In a way, these people are arguing that their party is in the right by wanting to celebrate those who committed treason.
Sure, there are contentions that Confederates had claimed independence and weren’t traitors. By that same argument, those who declare themselves to be sovereign citizens can do whatever the hell they please on American soil.
We should not rewrite the history books, and no one is suggesting we do so in advocating for the removal of Confederate monuments. But we should not celebrate those who caused the most divisive and darkest period in our nation’s history.