I’ve been thinking a lot, as I bet many of you have, about the spark for tragedy in Charlottesville — the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.
I’d like to point this out about it and many other Confederate statues: they did not go up immediately after the war as a way for the defeated but still proud South to honor its leaders. The vast majority of them went up in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (the one in Charlottesville was commissioned in 1917 and installed in the 1920’s, by a private citizen, on land he bought and donated to the city) at the height of Jim Crow. They were an indirect but unmistakable message to black people who theoretically had rights and were trying to exercise them.
The timing of that is as though Germany, now, 70 years after the end of WWII, started erecting statues to honor Hitler, Goebbels, etc.
That being said, however, I’m not sure the right way to deal with this is for the statues to come down. I think they should be interpreted, as per the above, and to them should be added, facing them, statues of Sojourner Truth, of John Brown, of Frederick Douglass. Of the now-anonymous slaves they bought and sold. Of Emmett Till, of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement are what they are. Our side talks about inclusiveness; let’s include the whole of those histories together, side by side, so we can begin to talk about them.