Are We Erasing History?

In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd, Americans have begun to demand long-overdue change. Over the past few weeks, controversy has been sparked as more and more Confederate monuments are being taken down. Yet many, including myself, are beginning to ask why this is even a debate. These men fought to preserve the brutal exploitation and enslavement of Black people so why are they honored? More importantly, why is the president so against their removal?

Much like the Confederate flag debate, the dismantling of Confederate monuments warrants the same response. So, let’s take a closer look at these prominent arguments.

“Trying to erase history.” When asked in an interview if she believed removing monuments is an attempt to erase American history, Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer prize winner and current Harvard history professor, replied, “No. I don’t. History will still be taught. We will know who Robert E. Lee was. Who Jefferson Davis was. Who Frederick Douglass was. Who Abraham Lincoln was. There are far more dangerous threats to history. Defunding the humanities, cutting history classes and departments. Those are the real threats to history.”

Just this year, North Carolina cut down on history class requirements for high schoolers. In addition, many high schools in the U.S. are underfunding important classes. Yet a study by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute and Smithsonian Magazine found that over $40 million taxpayer dollars have been directed towards preserving Confederate statues, monuments, parks, various Confederate heritage organizations, etc. Alabama, for example, spent $5.5 million taxpayer dollars to sustain its Confederate memorial park which honors Confederate soldiers who are long dead. For people so concerned with education and preserving history, no one seems too bothered by the fact that millions are going down the drain to honor the Confederacy while schools, particularly in the South, are struggling. The idea that you need a monument honoring men who believed in a system of oppression in order to not forget that very system of oppression, quite frankly, does not make sense.

Yet President Trump seems to think otherwise as he has been very adamant about keeping these monuments in place. His support for keeping the memorials was seen dating back to the 2017 Charlottesville protest- a protest organized by white nationalists in order to defend the Robert E. Lee statue. The march quickly turned deadly. Americans everywhere were horrified, and watched the broadcasted scenes unfold as marchers were seen carrying Confederate and Nazi flags as well as chanting racist and anti-semitic chants. Donald Trump, however, didn’t seem to be bothered and instead took to Twitter to say the following: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You…..”

How can we socially progress as a nation when the country is divided and our own president is the one deepening the divide?

“But it’s not hate.” Most Confederate statues were built during the Jim Crow era when racial tensions were higher than ever. With the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan, Black people were targeted and the statues were put up to send a message. Given the historical context under which these monuments were built, to say that they don’t mirror and represent the hateful views of a racist society is absurd. This was a time period when white southerners were desperate to cling on to the “old south.” The monuments were a way to glamorize and deem the Confederacy as valiant and brave and perpetuate the “lost cause” theory. The lost cause theory hugely downplays the role that slavery had on the war and states the reason for the war were states’ rights. Moreover, the lost cause paints slaves as being content and loyal to the Confederate cause. This myth is an attempt to paint the Confederacy in a good light all the while conveniently ignoring the trafficking and enslavement of millions of people.

“It’s just a statue.” This goes far beyond cement and resin. These statues were a symbol then of resistance to the new south and are a symbol now of resistance towards progression. More and more people are beginning to take a stance. Important conversions that were once ignored and dismissed are happening. Now, more than ever is the time to take action.