Confederate Statues and Monuments

Recently, lifeless symbols of oppression fell to the ground like bayonetted soldiers. They have littered the American landscape for too long. They should never have been given places of honor in the country they seceded from and fought against in the Civil War. Why were the losers allowed to propagate racism through statues and monuments? Were Americans cocooned in a state of complacent apathy from the Civil War era until now? Statues and monuments of honor should go to people who worked for the country’s betterment not its destruction. 

 Confederate statues and monuments resulted from southerners’ desires to hold on to a past created with malicious intent. There was nothing honorable in the southern way of life with slavery as its centerpiece. They displaced and disrupted Indigenous people.  As cargo, they imported Africans to raise their children, plant, harvest, and cook their food, clean their homes, build houses, cities, fortresses, and to service their unrestrained desires for sexual gratification and physical violence. Throughout the South, confederate statues have stood—and some still stand—as a reminder to white people of their “heritage” and to warn African descendants of their “inferior” status in America. 

White Americans—even some black Americans—will not understand the slogan “Black Lives Matter” or the reasons to remove statues until they know the meaning of racism and its progenitor—white supremacy, a construct designed to insure black subjugation. To hold on to the myth of white supremacy, white people must see and treat black people and people of color as inferior.  

It seems that statue removal proceeded without much thought. There was no plan, just the rage resulting from the murder of George Floyd times 400 years of black Americans laboring, suffering, and trying to live and thrive under white supremacy. As a black woman who lived during Jim Crow, I feel that rage, yet, I believe in knowledge and the right actions for correcting history.

I was surprised when protestors destroyed Grant’s statue. Grant was the Union General who won the Civil war and later became President. He was not a proponent of slavery. Grant grew up in an abolitionist family but married into a slave-owning family. His father-in-law gave him a slave named William Jones, whom he worked alongside for a while. Grant did not sell Jones, but manumitted, or freed him from slavery. Still, no human should own another.

General Grant accepted the surrender from Confederate States of America General Robert E. Lee at the end of the Civil War.  General Lee acknowledged that the Confederate States would pay taxes and support then-President Johnson and the U. S. government. Lee was not in favor of erecting Confederate monuments. He said it would “keep open the sores of war.” He understood that such “honor” would be an impediment to the South and would add to its difficulties. He knew that it was undeserved. Yet, over time, confederate statues appeared in 31 states and Washington, D.C.

They erected those symbols in the late 1890s with a spike between the 1900s and 1920s. The timing is not ironic. Following slavery’s end in 1865, free black people focused not only on surviving but also learning how to thrive in the country where they now had a stake and could see a future. Black towns sprung up all over the country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were upwards of 200 “Freedom towns” or All-black towns in 19 states. The most noted was the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma with its “Black Wall Street.”  

White fear and envy destroyed the prosperity of Greenwood, as well as Rosewood in Florida and other all-black towns. The alleged motivation for white men destroying black towns was to protect the “virtue of white women.” The real reason was to hold on to power through white supremacy. How could whites continue the myths and stereotype black people as Mammy, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, lazy, illiterate chicken- and watermelon-eating darkies, if free black people were learning, working for themselves, banking, building, raising families, and prospering like white people? 

The first confederate monument was erected 80 years after the Civil War. More racists symbols arose in the 1950s and 1960s with Brown v. Board (1954) and the beginning of the Civil Rights era. Again, white fear and the need to show black Americans “their place” spoke through those symbols of white supremacy.

Perhaps no president deserves a statue. They are all flawed humans elected to serve their country for a short time. Should they be venerated for doing a job? Or should we assign them to the history books and write and teach the truth – good, bad, and ugly of who they were, but most importantly what they did to and for America. 

Unlike monuments and statues which are easy to remove, Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain seem to claim permanence in America. Mount Rushmore displays four United States presidents, Washington, and Jefferson, who both owned slaves, along with Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Stone Mountain shows three figures of the Confederacy—Generals Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, and CFA President Jefferson Davis. Should those seemingly indestructible monuments of presidents be erased, or can other people of distinction be added? Perhaps a collage of faces from different races who have contributed to the good of humanity can be added to Mount Rushmore?

In 1912, Helen Plane had the idea to put a Confederate monument on Stone Mountain. Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), suggested to the first sculptor Gutzon Borglum, “I feel it is due to the Klan, which saved us from Negro dominations and carpetbag rule, that it be memorialized on Stone Mountain.” Carving began in 1915 and was completed March 3, 1972. The state of Georgia bought Stone mountain in 1958 from Samuel and William Venable “as a memorial to the Confederacy.” Plane’s letters to Borglum are among her papers (1915-1925) at Emory University. Plane and her group are responsible for many of the Confederate monuments erected.

We should remove symbols of white supremacy.  No state should continue to sanction racism. Those who cherish the Confederacy could have removed their heroes before the wrath of protestors did. They could have them in their museums. Counterfeit heroes that perpetuate the myth of white supremacy have no place in America.  No more tax dollars to maintain and promote racism. Take them down!  

However, removing the symbols will not remove the longings from southerners’ hearts. Nor will it prevent them from passing on their “history and heritage” with its racist myths to succeeding generations. Will America finally stand in the present for all Americans, or will the myth ever end?

4 Responses

  1. Vernell Deshields

    Well written. People need to really know their history.

  2. Angela Rice

    These statues and monuments should be in privately owned museums or properties. Tax payer money or land should not use for their upkeep. And Martin Luther King Jr, Georgia’s and the countries most celebrated citizen should be carved on Stone Mountain and the confederates removed. Thank you for your blog. Continue to speak the trut.