Wednesday, 09 September 2020 13:13

OPINION: Confederate monuments and history's erasure

Written by
Rate this item
(5 votes)

Should Confederate monuments stay, or should they go? That debate has been raging for the last three years, and especially since June with the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests.


During the Charlottesville Riots of 2017 and the BLM protests of today, Confederate monuments and statues have become a target of both removal and preservation. That’s what precipitated the Unite the Right Rally at Charlottesville where one person was killed and 19 were injured by a far-right protester ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. The rally was organized in protest to the city council’s decision to remove the General Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park. The council voted to remove the statue; however, the statue still stands because of continuing protests.

On the one hand, many people argue to preserve the Confederate monuments. To them, removing these monuments is akin to destroying history. They believe that by taking Confederate monuments down that we will forget our history. To them, these statues and monuments must stay in place.

The other side argues that the statues represent a very dark time in our nation’s history. To them, the Confederate monuments for figures such as Gen. Lee or Jefferson Davis represent a time when white supremacy was not only real, but supported by the law. Those in favor of the statues’ removal argue that it is disrespectful to many of our citizens today. The Confederates truly fought a war to preserve slavery after all. To them, it represents the tacit notion that the ideas of the Confederacy are still simmering and guiding some communities.

This would seemingly be an area where agreement can’t or won’t be reached. But that is wrong. We have done this before, and recently.

In the 1960s, North Carolina named large segments of Highway 74 in honor of President Andrew Jackson. The problem is that this president sent thousands of Native Americans to their deaths on the Trail of Tears in the early 1800s. And yet, N.C. dedicated parts of Highway 74 —  which goes right through Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties — to Jackson. Andrew Jackson Highway. Can you imagine that? A president that stripped people from their homes and forced them to march to another state, many of whom died, gets his own memorialized highway on that very path. Talk about a slap in the face to our Native Americans. Luckily, large sections have been renamed to American Indian Highway recently. A major vindication.

The same thing applies to the leaders of the Confederacy. From Lee to Davis, these figures represent a South that wanted to preserve the enslavement of black people. Don’t you think that black people would be just as upset with these monuments as those Native Americans were with Andrew Jackson? I would be. 

The point is this. Did we suddenly destroy our history by renaming the Andrew Jackson Highway to the American Indian Highway? No, or course not. It is still in our history, and it won’t be easily forgotten. What this renaming did do, however, is highlight the fact that a people were abused and laid to waste by our own government. It placed a bright marker on a blot of our history that we shouldn’t forget and that we shouldn’t repeat. Another important piece is that we aren’t honoring someone that doesn’t deserve it. 

I think that we can find agreement here. Do Confederate leaders deserve to be memorialized in our cities? Probably not. Are they a part of our history? Absolutely. But they don’t have to be part of our heritage.

Alex Auman is a Richmond Country native. He currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He writes about politics, ideas and current events.