Gov. Roy Cooper can expect blowback – and a lot of it – from his call to remove Confederate monuments from state property. But the governor, a son of rural North Carolina with a Southern accent all his own, is right.
There are three Confederate-related monuments on the State Capitol grounds, and many more around the state at courthouses. These monuments were in many cases erected not immediately after the Civil War but in the Jim Crow era almost as a defiance of integration – not that there was much integration then – and the long-ago outcome of a bloody and heartbreaking war.
The American people, through the democratic process and courts, struck down the Jim Crow laws. Now it is time to take down Jim Crow monuments as well. The General Assembly’s Republican leaders, with their unfailing instinct to take the wrong side of history, have passed a law forbidding local governments from removing Confederate monuments without state consent. Now let them defend that law. Silence is all we hear from them after Charlottesville and the disgraceful comments by President Trump that white nationalists and those who oppose them are but two sides of the same coin.
As time has gone by, these monuments have continued to be touted by some as “history,” but that is a poor line of logic. They are not in and of themselves history. They celebrate a cause and a period of history, but they are not history itself. They’re monuments like plaques or other remembrances. But in many Southern capitals, they’re the most grandiose statues and monuments in town, and the most prominent.
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Southerners speak of such monuments as part of their heritage. But that also is faulty logic. Heritage is about people, about ancestors. It is not about monuments.
But as the horrendous and deadly incident in Charlottesville showed, these monuments can become focal points, and unhealthy ones. Those enamored of the Lost Cause see the statues and monuments as points of pride, just as they wave the battle flag or stick it to their cars or wear it on hats.
But to millions of other Americans, these monuments and those flags represent not just the enslavement of their ancestors, but generations of abuse and murder of those ancestors. How can those descendants be expected to see those monuments every day, or to see them when visiting their Capital City, and not feel strong anger and resentment? Of course they feel it, and they have a right to.
It’s long since time these monuments were taken down or moved. They could be placed at other historic sites with more context. In other cases, it’s simply time for them to disappear.
Those who try to defend the monuments in the context of history, or worse, say they’re about courage and valor and states’ rights and not slavery. But absent the slavery issue, there would have been no Civil War. Thus, to millions of African-Americans, those monuments represent slavery and violence against their ancestors, period. They should not be expected to engage in a dialogue giving credibility to the specious argument that slavery was not the cause of the war or the issue that prolonged it.
Hundreds of thousands of Confederate and U.S. Army soldiers lie buried in hundreds of Civil War battlefields. They left behind families and legacies of bravery, well-deserved. That is enough, Let the monuments on Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg suffice as marble and granite memorials for those who fought and those who died.