Historical monuments are meant to be flattering to their subjects. I get that.
Everything but slavery, the “cornerstone of the Confederacy,” and this country’s long history of racial injustice is somehow memorialized in public places.
Believe me, I get that too.
But neither of those facts, in my mind, justifies the removal of Confederate monuments dotting our nation’s landscape.
Some of you agreed with me, calling my words, in a previous column about the monuments, “the voice of reason.” It was my opinion that removing these pieces of our history, however painful, is as wrongheaded as sanitizing it.
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More than a dozen of you wrote to share your opinion and nearly 600 commented online in a sometimes heated but otherwise civil and thoughtful debate.
It sparked a conversation, which is one of the reasons why Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, and I are advocating keeping them around.
“An honest examination of our history requires us to confront a painful, ambiguous past – an examination that for many is difficult, challenging and distressing,” Hale said. “That examination can also be provocative, stimulating and inspiring.”
But let’s be clear, our position is not to maintain the status quo. It is a suggestion that we change the conversation and convert these former objects of veneration into historic artifacts, calling them out for what they are — monuments to the Lost Cause and its corollary, white supremacy.
Keeping them in place without additional context is as problematic as erasure.
That’s why Hale and his staff created a tool at atlantahistorycenter.com/monuments they hope will help people research and tell the stories these monuments should tell today.
“We appreciate how painful these monuments are for many people,” Hale said. “It is our hope that strengthening the interpretation and deepening the dialogue will help everyone better understand our shared history.”
Beryl Kalisa, a professor of history, emailed me to say it saddens her to see history misunderstood.
“Should a man in 1700 be kicked out of history because he makes a negative comment about women’s rights that today we view differently?” she wrote. “Thank you for a well-balanced and written article.”
Another reader who described himself as “a good ol’ southern boy,” also appreciated my position. He said it led him to change his position on the Confederate flag.
“It behooves us … to learn from our mistakes and the man who is unwilling to learn from his mistakes, is destined to repeat them,” he wrote. “My thanks for expressing your thoughts in such a way as to lead me to a position that heretofore I had been unable to articulate.”
One suggested monuments should be built to slaves.
“These would be great on the town squares next to those who fought to enslave them,” wrote Jay Scott, a landscape architect from Atlanta.
“Simply removing or leaving them is not really good enough,” he said. “Some statues of people should be enhanced with a ‘true to life’ biography that could highlight what they did, both good and bad. And general monuments, like confederate memorials, should have another monument constructed nearby to honor the people on the other side, such as the people who suffered under them or the ones that overcame the terrible conditions and made contributions to our country.”
Jim Thompson of Atlanta questioned, how I, a black woman, could advocate leaving the monuments in place.
“When a black woman writes a column like this in the Sunday paper, white legislators in Georgia who may have been considering removing these monuments will say, “Well, maybe it’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
The public display of Confederate statues in front of state capitals and city halls, Thompson wrote, “is just blatant disrespect.”
That may be true but disrespect for whom? The injured or the one responsible for the injury?
We lose nothing when someone seeks to harm us but we lose everything when we harm others.
When you get right down to it, this is why the non-violent protests of the 1960s worked so well.
It awakened a sense of moral shame in the oppressor.
And so I feel no disrespect. Only pity for those who’ve ever looked upon me and my ancestors as anything less than human.