Destroying Confederate Monuments isn’t ‘Erasing’ History. It’s Learning from It.Roundup
tags: Confederacy, monuments, public history
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the multi-prize-winning book Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.
The recent uprisings following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Rayshard Brooks have reignited an old debate about the significance of Confederate monuments. Activists across the nation are calling for the removal of these monuments and the renaming of Army bases, emphasizing the role these symbols play in promoting white supremacist ideas.
President Trump, along with many other leaders, has insisted that these sweeping changes would somehow erase history or “bring people apart,” as Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week. That claim may make for good rhetoric, but it obscures one crucial fact: Confederate monuments, as well as Confederate-named Army bases, are modern inventions meant to distort history and celebrate a racist past.
These symbols serve one primary purpose — to honor figures of the past who upheld an undemocratic vision of America. They were created by white supremacists. And they function as a balm for white supremacists who long to return to a period when Americans regarded black people as property.
Just the way these symbols have been used in recent years underscores their intended purpose in American society. Five years ago this week, white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and mercilessly gunned down nine black parishioners. In the days following the massacre, images surfaced on the Internet showing Roof posing with the Confederate flag as he spouted white supremacist rants on his social media accounts.
Two years later, images of the Confederate flag dominated the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which resulted in the killing of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and the injury of at least 19 others. A group of neo-Nazis who stormed the University of Virginia’s campus aimed to defend the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who led the traitorous army during the Civil War. Months before the rally, the Charlottesville City Council had voted to remove the statue, and plans were underway to rename the park where it was located.
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