More than 150 years ago the U.S. suffered one of the darkest periods of its history – the Civil War.
Today, various areas in the U.S. memorialize Confederate and Union leaders with statues and monuments and, within the past few years, controversy has arisen as to whether Confederate monuments mark history or symbolize America’s shameful legacy of slavery.
The nationwide debate was sparked after Dylann Roofe murdered nine African-Americans in Charleston, SC in an attempt to ignite a “race war” in 2015. The spark burst into flames most recently in August when white nationalists marched in Virginia to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee monument.
So, what is the issue? Why, after all these years, are Americans advocating for the removal of these historical markers?
The first issue with Confederate monuments is they were not created initially following the Civil War. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center those monuments were constructed decades later. Most notably, the number of Confederate monuments peaked in the 1910s and 1920s during the era of Jim Crow laws, and then again in the 1950s and 1960s in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement.
Confederate statues were not erected to symbolize our nation’s history or honor heritage. These statues were constructed as a stubborn, passive-aggressive stance against the progression this country was making towards equality.
The second issue with Confederate monuments can be compared to a married couple. The wife decides to decorate the couple’s home with framed photos of her ex-boyfriends, gifts they bought her and memorabilia from their relationship. When asked about their unusual décor, the husband responds, “I love it. It is all a part of her history.”
Do we really need to have reminders that our nation was torn in two by bigotry, hatred and racism just because it is “a part of our history,” especially when those who raised the monuments support the views the Confederacy held?
We cannot erase the pain of the Civil War. We cannot undo the vicious acts our fellow Americans took against one another or the hate they willingly embraced.
But that does not mean we must honor that period of our dark history by designing monuments or naming schools after generals who hated their American brothers and sisters.
Ironically enough, Confederate General Robert E. Lee argued against the construction of Civil War monuments after the Civil War, warning they would “keep open the sores of war” rather than “obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”
As seen through the acts of racism most recently in our country, particularly the riots ensuing against the removal of these statues, I cannot help but agree with Lee.
Rather than help unity and equality flourish, it seems these memorials keep the hurting past of our great nation alive and encourage those with racist views to hold fast to their ideals.