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July 08, 2015

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Enrique Guerra-Pujol

The distinction between old Confederate monuments and flying the Confederate flag is not really all that persuasive ...

AGR

I understand your point about history, Al. But the question is to what period should these monuments be assigned? It seems that the monuments were put up to express the defiance of the white south in the late 19th and 20 centuries, and to show southern black inhabitants that southern whites would never accept black equality. They send the message "we are in charge." I just wonder how one generation can continue to bind another through this sort of symbolism. Just because people in one time put up a monument that expresses the values of that age, we have to stick with them in perpetuity, no matter what?The Confederacy will live on in history books, movies, plays. Why should statues of people who led armies against American soldiers dot he landscape for all to see?

Al Brophy

Thanks for this, AGR. There are certainly some cases where the monument/name, like the Confederate flag, ought to/must come down -- I think Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis and the school in Jacksonville are great examples of this. The violence that's being commemorated and the political message is too bitter a pill to continue. (I come out differently from the city council in Memphis, which I understand wants to move Forrest's remains -- though I recognize that we move graves with some frequency when they're in the way of "progress" and to shift places of commemoration. After all, that's how Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond ended up with President Monroe, even though he died before the cemetery was created.)

I think there's a spectrum here, which requires balancing the current meaning and offensiveness against other considerations (including historical memory and I'd even add tradition, though I know tradition is on its way out as a value -- probably for the best in most instances). A big question for me is whether the commemoration is serving some kind of current political purpose. I see why we took down the George III statue in NYC during the Revolution; and this is the reason why I advocated taking down the Confederate flag in SC. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122138/confederate-flag-unconstitutional

I think the flag sent a message -- unintended by many of its supporters, I know -- of white supremacy. And I was delighted to wake up this morning and hear that it's coming down.

One other thought. I'm not sure at all that the memory of the eras of slavery and Jim Crow will be perpetuated as well through books and movies as by having physical monuments. (Another point I make sometimes is that monuments recede into the background, too -- so monuments may not be a good way of preserving memory of the past.) I think there's a very good chance that when the monuments are gone it will be easier for "the establishment" to ignore that slavery and Jim Crow existed and that they affect the present.

Thanks, AGR, for this. I hope to have a fuller response soon.

AGR

That's a good point, Al, that removing the monuments may mean that it will be easier to forget. That it is a risk, certainly. I would say that if Reconstruction had gone differently, if the white south had admitted defeat and gone forward, instead of insisting that "the South" was gong to "rise again", either through ignorance of the implications of that phrase or with full knowledge of its meaning, I might take a different view of removal. The monuments, however, are so inextricably linked with the attitude of defiance, the refusal to accept defeat, and the persecution of black people that I would be willing to take the risk that other forms of art, history, and discourse can remind Americans that we had a Civil War. As i said, I think they are also affronts to the memory of the Union dead who took that territory for the United States. I said in another place that this reminds me of my kids' little league and soccer teams. No one officially kept score, but someone always got more points than the other, but nobody "won" and everyone got a trophy. You lose a war, and you still get to fly your flag and put your monuments up over your conquered territory. The same trophy whether you win or lose.

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