“We’re erasing history when we take down statues and remove the Confederate flag. Stop erasing history!”
This is the argument of the moment. It’s the idea that if we take down statues honoring Confederate personalities from Southern State capitals and non-battlefield locations (and in some places outside of the South – ie Maryland), then we are erasing their memory and erasing the memory of what the Civil War was really about.
Here’s are some things to consider regarding this argument.
1. Let’s talk about actual history. In my sermon this past week I quoted people who were alive at the time of the confederacy to show what the Confederacy was actually about – slavery. You really can’t do research on this and not find plenty of quotes from the era that shows that the Confederacy and the Confederate cause during the Civil War was really about preserving slavery and the structures and systems that supported slavery. Look up William Thompson, the man who designed the Confederate flag – read what he said the flag stood for. Read the Secession Statements from any of the Confederate State. Read the words of Jefferson Davis, the first president of the Confederacy. It’s pretty clear what these folks, who made up the actual Confederacy, believed what the Confederacy was about. That’s not twisting history – those are actual beliefs of the people who started and supported the Confederacy. For those who support the idea of maintaining the original intent of the Constitution, then we should use the same logic when it comes to the original intent of the Confederacy too.
2. While we’re talking about history, let’s talk about the history of the actual statues – when were they put up and why. Most of these statues went up in the early 1900’s and were efforts to keep alive the ideas of the Confederacy. They were placed in locations that were meant to send a clear signal of who was in charge and who was acceptable
3. What history are we actually erasing? – the fake history of the beautiful antebellum south that never existed in the first place, or the façade that gets thrown around as Gospel truth because we prefer to remember the Confederacy as something quaint and pleasant. Do we keep this fake history because the reality of slavery is just too difficult to deal with? And the fact that somewhere around a million people died because of the Civil War.
4. Does this mean that the only memory we have of the confederacy resides in statues and a flag? I don’t see a whole of statues and flags dedicated to Rome, or Greece here in the US – and yet, somehow, we manage to remember the history of those civilizations. Maybe that’s just too distant and on foreign soil. How about this instead. Are there any statues for the war of 1812, how about flags with the appropriate stars on the flag? Yet we still have a memory of this war. Statues and flags aren’t the only way to remember history. If it was, we’d be screwed. And frankly, the internet would have disappeared as something powerful for human memory too.
5. What is the real fear? Is the fear that we’ll talk about the truth of the history and that we’ll feel guilty that we’ve been honoring a lie this long?
6. So if we extend the logic that is being argued here originally, then we should have forced the Iraqi people to keep up the statue of Saddam Hussein, lest they erase history. We should have highly encouraged the Russians to keep up the statue of Lenin when communism fell, in order to preserve history. We should have left the “whites only” and “blacks only” signs up in order to preserve history. Or maybe that’s different, although I’m not sure how.
7. Some times tearing down statues and laying flags to rest isn’t about erasing history at all. Sometimes it’s about remembering the actual history and the horror that goes with it and deciding that there are better ways to remember history, and it’s not by erecting or keeping statues that tell a skewed history. Instead, let’s tell the full history. Here’s a pretty good article that asks an important question that relates to this very issue – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/20/why-there-are-no-nazi-statues-in-germany-215510 Why are there no nazi statues in Germany?
I’ve been to one of the locations that keeps the actual history of Nazism alive and well – Dachau concentration camp. There, they keep the actual history of what happened alive. It’s not a façade. It’s real. When we start actually keeping history of the Confederacy, then I’ll be happy to go to a monument that shows what it was about. I will walk the grounds of a plantation – especially the slave “residence” and learn about the life of the slave and see monuments dedicated to slaves who died at the hands of their masters. Why do we erase this portion of history? Because it’s uncomfortable? It’s our history and we don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to tell a lie, then deal with reality. It’s not as painful. It requires no change. Until we acknowledge the actual history of the confederacy, we aren’t going to move past it.