Earlier this week -- before the landslide against Confederate flags -- a local town council voted to keep the name "Confederate Memorial" on the building at right. So I have a question: what is that building now and where is it? (I'm sorry that this is such a poor angle -- the front of the building has a sign announcing what it is, so that wouldn't make for a very good trivia question. As it stands, this may be impossible unless you live in the neighborhood -- which a lot of our readers do; heck, a lot of our bloggers live near here.)
And as you're working on that question, I want to begin to talk about why I feel differently about Confederate flags on government property (which should be taken down and obviously will be) and Confederate memorials and buildings named after Confederate heroes. Part of this relates to the difference between the continual care that a flag needs -- we have to put a new one up frequently -- whereas the Confederate monuments have been up for decades (usually but not always; some new ones are still going up). Sure, we can alter a monument once it's up, but for me the distinction is that we're dealing with a landscape put up decades ago instead of something that (in the case of the Confederate flag in Columbia South Carolina) was put up this morning.
There's another reason why I think it's important to keep monuments up -- as a general matter. It's that if we take them down, we'll too easily forget that the landscape was once populated by (and controlled by) people who supported the Confederacy. Taking those monuments down will facilitate forgetting of that important fact. This is where I part company, I suppose with both a lot of my friends who work on race in American history, and also with some of the neo-Confederates with whom I was temporarily aligned (they can now go back to hating my scholarship). Putting up another pro-United States monument or something just commemorating in simple but elegant terms the deaths of United States soldiers and slaves, as Terry Malloy aptly suggested, I don't think accomplishes fully the purpose of remembering. It remembers the sacrifices of those who fought to end slavery and preserve the United States and those who died under the system of slavery, but it doesn't preserve the record that those in power supported the Confederacy.
I recognize, however, that some monuments may continue to be such a bitter pill to swallow for the community -- especially where African Americans didn't have a say in the initial placement of a monument -- that it should come down (or be moved somewhere else). Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis is one of those places where the renaming may be appropriate, just as it was necessary to rename Nathan Bedford Forrest School in Jacksonville a few years back. Balancing the value of history and the current harm imposed by a monument is critical. There's a lot more to say about this and I look forward to talking about it as I work on a short piece on the renaming of Saunders Hall. It looks like that sixteen year ban on renaming on the UNC campus may be shortened.
Update: I see that the woman arrested for pulling down the Confederate flag this morning at Columbia is Bree Newsome. Now I'm wondering if she's related to Barry Newsome, who was involved in the Nat Turner rebellion?
H/t Linda Jacobson.