As an invisible passenger in the car of an African-American family driving through rural Alabama, you look upon the hill to your left and see an old Confederate monument. The little girl beside you asks her mother who that man on the horse is on the hill. Her mother responds by telling her that he was a general who fought for the South during the Civil War. The little girl then asks why he fought in the war. Her mother tells her that he fought for slavery…
As of late, there has been a controversial movement to remove public monuments that are dedicated to high ranking Confederate soldiers. Many disagree with the movement, citing two arguments. The first by claiming slavery was not a significant factor in the cause of the Civil War and that the monuments represent Southern heritage rather than hate that has endured from the past. I ask you to keep an open mind as you read the following case to deglorify the Confederacy.
First, the tipping point that launched the start of the Civil War was a combination of state’s rights and slavery. The state’s wanted the autonomy to keep slavery. They also wanted new states that were admitted in the Union to either have a choice of being a slave state or be designated a slave state because of their economy, population, or it being because the state before them was designated a free state. This would guarantee that the institution of slavery would continue to spread and be an integral part of the United States’ economy, making it progressively harder to abolish due to economic dependency. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president on a platform of discontinuing the spread of slavery to new states that entered the Union. The South saw this as a first step to abolition and seceded from the Union. For those who claim that the Civil War was fought to maintain state’s rights, then I agree. They fought to keep a state’s right to continue the institution of slavery.
Second, the monuments are argued to be a testament to the forefathers who fought for the previously mentioned “state’s rights.” If one still believes that these statues represent heritage, I would point to the periods in history in which the vast majority of these statues were constructed. Very few Confederate statues were built in the decade following the Civil War. The vast majority were built during the two most racially charged periods in American post-Civil War history: Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. During Jim Crow, states passed laws that heavily discriminated against African-Americans. These laws in the South systematically targeted the illiterate and impoverished population that African-Americans were placed in immediately after slavery. So why, when Jim Crow laws were being passed, would states start to erect Confederate monuments glorifying their cause? They did this to continue and intensify the systematic oppression of African-Americans. Could you imagine being in a land as the son or daughter of a former slave, being illiterate and impoverished, watching the statues of men who wanted you to stay a slave like your father being erected before your very eyes? This example is not out of context or exaggerated. This is what millions of African-Americans faced in the South. The same thing happened during the Civil Rights protests of the 1950’s and 60’s when African-Americans were being beaten, arrested, and segregated because of their skin color and attempts to achieve equality. In this period, when African-Americans were being beaten and killed left and right by police for using white facilities, a large amount of Confederate statues were being constructed throughout the South. Imagine your brother being beaten for drinking from a “white” fountain and seeing the construction of a monument glorifying a man who wanted you and your brother enslaved. These two periods were when the most Civil War monuments were built. This is not by chance, this was to gather white support and promote African-American oppression and discrimination under one rallying cry, “heritage, not hate.”
Now, it is important to note that the grave sites of these men should not be desecrated or removed. This is disrespectful and shows the concept has not been understood. Grave sites are to commemorate a life, monuments are to commemorate a cause. These monuments aren’t always being destroyed, many are being transferred to museums. This is where these statues belong, museums. History that is oppressive and was used to propagate hate toward a minority should never be seen on a grandiose platform like a state capital.
There are also those who wish to compare these men to the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. There is simply no comparison. Washington and Jefferson were brilliant political philosophers who built the greatest governing system known to man, the United States. Yes, they owned slaves; however, they didn’t fight for the institution. Thomas Jefferson, when writing the Declaration of Independence, condemned King George for the institution of slavery. This was later removed because the Founders did not want to disavow a popular practice when trying to gather a unified voice against the greatest empire in the world. Only after the war did the Founders draft a provision that started to chip away at slavery, halting slave importation after 1808.
It is imperative to move forward realizing that different people with different backgrounds and experiences can share their experiences to promote change for the better. We must not rely only on our own experiences when deciding something, we must also consider other’s views and experiences. Like the African-American who is still wondering why there is a glorified monument of a man in the middle of his city who fought to make his ancestors, parents, and own self, a slave.
Greyson Oswalt-Smith is a political science major at Kennesaw State University who plans on going to law school. He enjoys being politically involved locally, and serves on the Sara Hightower Board of Trustees. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.