Question of the Week – 8/24-8/28

Robert E. Lee's Equestrian statue unveiled in 1890. Around 100,000 people attended the unveiling.
Robert E. Lee’s Equestrian statue unveiled in 1890. Around 100,000 people attended the unveiling.

This week’s question comes from our own Ashley Webb.

I recently visited Richmond for work, and as I was driving down Richmond’s Monument Avenue, I was struck, not by the ‘offensive’ nature of the Confederate statues lining the center of the streets, but by the beauty and talent put forth into the creation of the statues- let alone the sheer size of them!  Most of the statues were commissioned and erected between 1890 and 1925  (with Robert E. Lee’s statue being the first unveiled in 1890).

In June, after the controversy began concerning the Confederate flag, activists targeted the statues portraying Virginia’s Confederate heroes-aiming for Richmond to remove them from the illustrious street.

Do you think the city should remove the statues? What about in cities other than Richmond?  Do you think the symbolism of these statues has changed, 100+ years later?

14 Responses to Question of the Week – 8/24-8/28

  1. If we were to remove the statues of Lee and Davis, both slave owners, then I suppose we should remove those of Washington and Jefferson…so NO we should not remove them. Unfortunately, we have a very uneducated American public today that likes to judge history by today’s standards and fails to take an objective approach to anything.

    1. Thanks for kicking off the discussion, RT! I think trying to place the statues in the overall context of history is important. The values and standards of the country as a whole have evolved, as well as what was and wasn’t morally acceptable. I think it’s hard for the public to remember or imagine a life without many of our current conveniences, becoming quick to judge someone from 150 years ago, without really thinking about what they encountered on a day to day basis. I’m sure many of the same are spoon fed what what they should or shouldn’t believe, with many of the important facts being glossed over or ignored- and not just on this topic!

  2. Not withstanding that most of these were put up by folks needing to glorify the Confederate cause, including sugar coating slavery and the war, no I don’t think they should come down. Just the cost and the loss of art would be a shame. The money could be better spent. If we could sit down and talk about how best to view our history in its complexity we might find some good purpose for these statues. Our history is our history, both the good and bad of it. I do feel that it is inappropriate for the Confederate battle flag, or any other flag of the Confederacy, to fly over government buildings or be a part of a state flag but we do need to continue to grapple with our history and the statues can be a part of that if we can get pass the ideological bent of some in the South of both races (and I am a Southerner before I get beat up here) and really try to understand how it all was viewed by those that lived at the time. That includes understanding that enslaving a human being, even with a heavy racism motivation, was not seen the same then as now and whites on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line were racist and not terribly concerned with the plight of the slave or the aftermath of their freedom. Recognizing that does not make me a racism, it means I’m trying to understand history as it occurred, not how I wish it to be.

    An argument can be made that had the South not insisted on existing the Union, and Lincoln had not insisted on trying to stop them, that this continent would have fostered slavery for much longer than it did. To our detriment in my opinion. It is also an unfortunate fact that had Africans not been brought here in slavery, and many owners or their sons indulged themselves with the female slaves, many of my friends that I cherish would not be here today. As bad as something was in the past, there can be healing parts if we look for them. That does not negate the pain, but we can not change the past, we can only acknowledge it, attempt to understand it and if we are disturbed by it, seek to avoid the same in the future. But eliminating all references will not make it different and will not eliminate today’s racism.

    1. Sharon, I agree with you. I also believe that taking down those statues would only encourage the making of new Confederate statues on private property. I know that I must have ancestors who fought for the North, and I’m glad the North won, but I take no pleasure in any recollections of how Southerners suffering during The War. If I blame the slave owners, then I must also blame those in the “free state’s” who kept slavery alive by purchasing slave produced goods. The War was a horrible tragedy and we should accept the fact that the there were men on both sides of the Mason Dixon who were responsible for it. Next time you see a statue, be it Union or Confederate, ask yourself, what can we learn from the mistakes of history?

      1. You are too right, pde21. I’m sure we’d see a huge surge of individuals commissioning statues of Confederates and placing them in prominent view of the road. I live in a sprawling suburban neighborhood built in the 1960s, and a house down the street from me immediately installed a huge flag pole and began flying the Confederate battle flag when the controversy began a few months ago. For many, the flag represents Southern pride, and I’m sure any new statues created would be fueled by the same.

    2. I really like the last sentence in your response. I think many people forget that we need to learn from our mistakes in order for us to hopefully not make them again. Too many people have fought and/or died for the small advances we’ve had only for something else to push us back. Although the statues may be an everyday reminder to some, many, or all Richmond African Americans of life under slavery, removing them won’t fix the continued problems America is facing concerning racism.

  3. There may be individual cases where removal of statues would be appropriate. To use two not-too-controversial examples: Nicolae Ceau?escu in Romania and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In the United States, the mass removal of Confederate statuary would seem highly inappropriate. As noted before, images of Washington and Jefferson, which are even on our currency, would be at risk. If Lee and Jackson statues disappeared because of their connections to slavery, what should we do with those of Sherman and Sheridan, who had exterminationist ideas, if not policies, concerning Native Americans? And the vandalization of Confederate monuments should be decried by one and all.

  4. The in-your-face display of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was prompted by the segregationists’ reaction to the budding Civil Rights movement that began in the ’50s. The purpose in erecting those statues and monuments was no such reaction because no Civil Rights movement that made any appreciable difference to all races as did the one that grew out of Brown v. Board of Education and advanced by Dr. King and others exist at the time of their planning.

    During my Vacations in Germany I saw stone monuments to the citizens of the towns who died in World War II much like those in the commons of New England towns and visited Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, the present to him on his 50th birthday on the top of Kehlstein . At the base of that mountain towering over Berchtesgaden is a Documentation Museum filled with Nazi relics built over the underground city that served as a bomb shelter for Hitler’s highest disciples under their vacation homes next to Hitler’s. Everything else in Berchtesgaden which was the Nazi vacation resort had previously been demolished to erase any use of those symbols of Nazi power from German memory, as making the display of the swastika a criminal act except in a historical context. The museum is maintained to attempt the Germans to come to grips with their guilt in allowing their country to descend into that era of madness.

    With the deaths in Charleston we Americans are coming to grips with our own guilt in using slavery as a means of accumulating wealth. For only the second time in 150 years has a President said that slavery was wrong. A person displaying the flag symbolizing opposition to Civil Rights and Integration is not a criminal but is quickly becoming a social pariah. We need not follow the lead of the Germans in destroying anything that reminds us of the conflict that settled this moral issue once and for all. It is patently unfair to compare the South’s defense of slavery to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust except that it appears that Germany is recognizing its guilt within 70 years of the end of World War II, and some in the South and even in the North have yet to recognize its wrong over twice that time. We need not tear down the monuments to the “Lost Cause” because we should not forget those centuries of the subjugation of a race and its consequences, but come to grips with it and admit our error in requiring a war to end it.:

  5. Clearly the symbolism has changed but the history has not. Unfortunately, those on both sides of the “tear down/take down” issue are guilty of their own selective memories of the Civil War and confusing this with mid-20th century Civil Rights law.
    I hope that the taking apart of Monument Avenue and “other cities” was not a serious intellectual question.
    And to pde21, I would remind him/her that the ugly tale of cotton contracts awarded to Northern business interests by the Union government and Lincoln’s part in it during the War, point toward to economic issues and war profiteering. (see Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War by L H Johnson)

  6. I am an alumnus of Marshall University, named for former slave-owning Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. A statue of Marshall dominates the center or the campus. Should they change the university’s name? Remove the statue? Should I burn my diploma?

  7. “For only the second time in 150 years has a President said that slavery was wrong.”

    Wait . . . WHAT?

    The monuments should stay. Including Arthur Ashe. Artistic value and magnificent symbols of how far we have come as a society, and how disastrously things can go wrong when we stop seeing each other as human beings.

    1. The artistic value alone on each of them is amazing! Although the statues represent a time period that glorifies a way of life that promoted slavery, society as a whole has evolved (or at least, we hope). I think sometimes activists forget to take that step back, look at the history behind the object, or this case the statues, see the educational possibilities, and move forward from there.

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