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The History and Future of Confederate Monuments

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Civil War, Confederacy, monuments, White Supremacy



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No state has more Confederate monuments to revere or revile than the commonwealth of Virginia. In Richmond, the capital, there's a contentious debate about what to do about five prominent Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.

Julian Hayter: All these years later, the Civil War, in many ways, is still contested ground. This is contested ground.

Anderson Cooper: This is ground zero of this debate.

Julian Hayter: Absolutely. In large part because it was the capital of the Confederacy.

Julian Hayter is a historian at the University of Richmond.

Julian Hayter: Monument Avenue is not just a national tourist attraction, but an international tourist attraction.

Monument Avenue is like a Confederate walk of fame. There are the generals: Robert E. Lee and his horse traveler; "Stonewall" Jackson; and J.E.B. Stuart; the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis; and finally Matthew Fontaine Maury, a somewhat more obscure figure who tried and failed to start a Confederate colony in Mexico.

Julian Hayter: Those monuments, in many ways, are part and parcel of what we call the Lost Cause.

Anderson Cooper: The Lost Cause. What does that mean?

Julian Hayter: The Lost Cause, quite frankly, is just the Confederate reinterpretation of the Civil War. It's created almost immediately after the war ends by Confederate leadership. it was hard for a lot of people, in my estimation, to believe that their ancestors died and-- and fought for an ignoble cause. 600-and-some-odd-thousand people died in the Civil War. Which is more Americans than died in the second World War. And people had to make sense of that.

Believers in the Lost Cause who raised money to build monuments in town and cities across the country were often veterans or their widows and children. Lost Cause ideology portrayed Confederate soldiers as heroes defending states' rights against northern aggression, and downplayed slavery's role in causing the war.

The first Confederate statue on Monument Avenue wasn't built until 1890, 25 years after the Civil War ended. The last one went up in 1929.  

Anderson Cooper: You've written that these statues serve white supremacy.

Julian Hayter: Sure. And that, by the way, is a critical component of the Lost Cause. The idea that African Americans were not only happy slaves, but they were unprepared for freedom. The idea that African Americans were helpless-- after the Civil War. And in that way it represents the continuation of the ways that whites think about-- Black folks' intellectual abilities-- not just during slavery, but shortly thereafter.

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Read entire article at CBS News

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