As a Methodist minister, a lover of history and a native of the South, there are some historical monuments that I would love to see.
I would love to see a statue of a slave rising from his knees, breaking chains from his hands and feet, with his face smiling towards heaven, symbolically representing his liberation from slavery. That would be a powerful image.
It would also be nice if Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Luke could be inscribed beneath it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and to set the captive free” (Luke 4:18-19). This monument could be a celebration of freedom for all who suffered under this evil institution, a testimony to the slaves’ resilience in the face of unbelievable oppression and a recognition that the South has moved on from its past.
I would also love to see a statue of black and white boys and girls laughing and playing together. Maybe this monument could be in a city park where there’s a playground. And the inscription beneath it could be from Paul’s letter to the Galatian church which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
For this has always been the goal of the abolitionists and the civil rights activists – that we would judge one another by the content of our character, not the color of our skin – and that we would be friends. I think it would be a unforgettable image and a reminder that the church has played a role in dismantling racism in our culture, and still needs to play an active role today.
Now admittedly, these first two monuments might blur the lines of church and state on our public property, but I would bet that most in the secular world could get behind these images of unity, love and liberation. It would also set the Christian church on the side of equality and reconciliation, for even though some of us seem to like division more, the Christian church has always believed in the image of God in all people and that Jesus tore down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, and therefore, we are to exist as one people today.
The third statue I would love to see would be of a Southern abolitionist. Someone like Moncure Conway, James G. Birney or Angelina Grimke. These people sold their slaves, stuck their necks out for their black brothers and sisters, and/or advocated for the abolition of slavery. And they were part of societies that stretched across the South that opposed the Confederacy and what it stood for (which Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, made quite clear in his “Cornerstone Speech,” when he said that the Confederacy rests “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition”).
This third statue would celebrate that this ideal was defeated. It would also recognize that there were other viewpoints in the Confederacy, and educate the public about their presence.
But if you look around our public squares today, there are no monuments like this. Instead, they’re mainly monuments to Confederate soldiers or statues of Confederate generals. And they were constructed mainly in the Jim Crow era from the 1890s to the 1920s, when African-Americans were rising in income and power and there was a backlash from whites to segregate everything from schools to public transportation. When you think about that, it’s pretty clear these monuments were built to signify to the black community that you are still not in power and that we like it that way. And when you read African-American newspapers from back then, they recognized that too.
But maybe one day we will have monuments that tell all of our story. Maybe one day all of us will recognize that our present-day statues are an insult to our black brothers and sisters and those who opposed the Confederacy in the South. But I’m afraid that day is not today. So I will continue to pray for that day. And I hope others will too.
Scott Foster is the pastor at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Fayetteville. He grew up in Raleigh.