Reuters reports that in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, “municipal leaders in cities across the United States said this week they would step up efforts to pull [Confederate] monuments from public spaces.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Monday that she has spoken with multiple contractors regarding the removal and relocation of Confederate monuments, reports the Associated Press. She claims she would like the statues to be moved to “Confederate cemeteries.”
Pugh says she’s keeping mum on when the monuments would come down in an effort to prevent the kind of violence seen in Virginia on Saturday when white nationalists came to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
According to Reuters: “Officials in Memphis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, announced new initiatives on Monday aimed at taking down Confederate monuments. And Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, urged lawmakers to rid the state’s Capitol of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
There are four main schools of thought as it pertains to the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces:
1. Remove and Destroy Them All
One set of Americans believe that monuments dedicated to members of the Confederacy should no longer stand on public land. They see these monuments as an affront to the values for which the Union fought — the abolition of slavery being at or near the top of the list.
These people view the monuments as a tacit endorsement of Confederate values by state governments, or at the very least, an unwillingness on the part of state government officials to place the final nail in the Confederate coffin.
Some of the individuals in this camp want the monuments taken down and destroyed.
2. Sell Them to Private Collectors or Museums
Another set of Americans would like to see the statues removed from public land, but preserved for posterity either by a private collector, or by a museum. This is the middle-ground position. State governments (and thus the taxpayer) aren’t paying to maintain monuments dedicated to members of the Confederacy, but their existence isn’t being memory-holed.
3. Keep Your History Before You
A third set of Americans recognize the grievances of those who would like to have Confederate monuments removed, but believe that keeping them where they stand can serve as an important reminder of how far we’ve come as a nation.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice articulated this point during an interview with Cameron Smith of AL.com in May, 2017:
One of the things about statues and monuments and the like is that for those who weren’t a part of that history, it can be a reminder. I have students who were not born when the Soviet Union collapsed, and they’re maybe not going to remember that in the way that I did, that there was once this thing called the Soviet Union.
Nobody is alive today who remembers the Civil War, but by looking at that, you can trigger what it meant and what it was like. You don’t have to honor the purposes of people whose history now shows that they were on the other side of history, but you better be able to remind people.
So, I myself and not much for whitewashing history. I don’t like the renamings, I don’t like the taking down [of] various monuments. I know that, for instance, the flag — the Confederate flag — I agree completely with Nikki Haley and others. That was a battle flag of the defeated Confederacy. That’s a different matter. But these historical figures, we need to remember who they are, what they stood for, and why we’ve moved on.
4. What Comes Next
There is a fourth set of Americans who, while they may agree with those who want Confederate monuments removed, they also worry about what comes next.
All historical figures are set on a spectrum. An individual like Nathan Bedford Forrest is very clearly on the darker end of the spectrum, and it’s likely that many Americans would agree that monuments of him should be removed from public property. However, there are other historical figures whose standing on the spectrum of history is more difficult to classify.
For example, Thomas Jefferson, the man who was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, and partially responsible for the birth of the United States, also happened to be a slave owner. Do we remove monuments to Jefferson?
What of the American flag? The Continental Congress, several members of which were slave owners, approved the design of the flag, and made it the official flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. Do we change the flag?
This set of people are concerned that the removal of Confederate monuments is only the beginning of a slippery slope, the end of which will be the sanitizing of great swaths of our history.
As of now, it appears the movement to pull down Confederate monuments is gaining steam. Where it goes next remains to be seen.