Removal of confederate statues depicts a changing America

Throughout the southern United States, confederate statues are being ripped from the ground and removed piece-by-piece. Statues of confederate war generals such as Robert E. Lee in Virginia and P.G.T Beauregard in New Orleans are among the ones to no longer be openly glorified in the South.

It is a battle between southern heritage and progressive politics. The argument for removing these statues is reflective of the current political climate in the United States.

A protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, led by alt-right nationalist leader Richard Spencer sparked a national controversy this past weekend when those against the removal of the historical monuments carried torches and chanted racist slurs at the rally. It was criticized to be reminiscent of a KuKluxKlan (KKK) rally. It didn’t help that KKK leader David Duke tweeted support to Spencer. In its own way this controversial rally is symbolic of the tone the monuments carry.

“As someone who grew up in the south, but is removed culturally as a first generation black woman I find this discussion on the removal of statues of Civil War heroes slightly redundant given it is a question that seems to have no answer and has been argued over through my entire lifetime,” senior Kemi Oritsejafor said. “Ultimately it’s a very necessary discussion, due to the times that we live in where Americans are no longer ignoring the systemic and literal violence that is being inflicted on black bodies. Without black individuals being subjugated to slavery the United States would not exist.”

The debate to remove these controversial figures has been taking place for decades. The controversy being these statues commemorating confederate war heroes neglect the injustice and oppression of African-American people in the United States. Those against their removal, like Richard Spencer, claim removing these monuments is erasing southern heritage and pride. But, the ongoing debate is these statues representing southern culture are also symbolic of the exploitation of a group of people and their history.

The statues were put on display in the 1920s and 30s by the children and grandchildren of Civil War veterans as a way to commemorate the perishing veterans and the confederate army.

“They were built during the Jim Crow era, shortly after Plessy vs. Ferguson,” geography professor Euan Hague who studies the confederate commemoration and white racial identities said. “They were moved from cemeteries to public places. At first they were original soldiers and were then turned into specific leaders. They were built around the idea of reestablishing white supremacy.”

It can be said a number of these statues are being removed due to a changing political realization. It is immoral to glorify a dark part of American history where separating citizens based on racial identity was the norm, when being anti-black was a way of life. We are currently in a tug-of-war where the right are pulling for their white-nationalist views to persist and the left is pulling for a progressive agenda.

“American mentality is always progressive, but there is always a push back, it was about race and slavery, whitewashing history, improvements on certain social issues,” James Wolfinger, associate dean and professor with an emphasis on race and politics, said. “Right now, we are at a moment where people are angry. There is a lot of heat and tension.”

This political controversy brings to mind the removal of the confederate flag in 2015 after it flew over South Carolina’s capitol grounds for 54 years. The legacy of the confederate flag was taken down because of the murder of nine African-American churchgoers by then 21-year-old Dylan Roof. Roof was deeply invested in white supremacy ideals through an online platform which encouraged him to commit the 2015 murders in Charleston, South Carolina.

The length in time it took to remove these statues is controversial in itself, but their removal makes clear the direction America is trying to go in.

One can argue the election of former President Obama is a push to bring down these confederate memorials. Even the election of Donald Trump as president, who relied heavily on the vote of white nationalists, displays how toxic this mentality can be. Even statues of confederate heroes are symbols of this toxic pride.

“New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, one of his policies is to bring integration into the city,” Hague said. “Confederate monuments in his city is not good for business. It really puts the issue on the agenda.”

But one thing in moving the monuments is where to put them next. There has been a debate between demolishing the statues completely, others say selling them to private buyers or, perhaps the most reasonable decision, placing them in a museum.

“I believe putting them in museums is permissible. It’s all about how they are showcased and not heroized,” Oritsejafor said. “These statutes do represent history, and history cannot be erased, but when history is based on the exploitation of bodies and lives, then these momentums of the times need to be handled with a high level of emotional intelligence.”

Although, this is a dark part of U.S. history, demolishing these statues would erase a crucial part of history. There is a present struggle in the U.S. between creating a progressive, diverse society and the white reaction. Now,  deciding on how to salvage these statues will dictate how Americans want to remember the past.