Rome City Commissioners debated the issue of whether the statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest should be placed in the Rome Area History Center. A consensus was not reached, but the issue of statues and monuments has become a hot topic in the United States.
There have been questions for many years, but more since last year, when many protestors and rioters tore down various statues depicting both Confederate and nonConfederate men. There are many reasons for why people support removing statues, and there are an equal number of reasons for why some people want them to remain. However, whether it is the statue of Forrest or George Washington, the question must be asked: what is the purpose of statues?
The first reason why we erect monuments to historical figures, and this is where I believe the most ire arises from, is to commemorate something that figure did.
This is important because statues are not merely erected for that person’s personality or to celebrate every aspect of their life. For example, statues of Washington celebrate his saving of the U.S. and his service as the first president, not that he owned slaves. Statues are there to memorialize great aspects of a person’s life, not necessarily the person as a whole.
Forrest was an awful, hateful person. There is no disputing that fact. He was a vicious racist who was a founding member of the evil Klu Klux Klan. However, it is equally true that his statue was originally erected to celebrate his defense of Rome from Union soldiers. Likewise, there are memorials of Confederate men who died in the defense of Rome.
Statues also are a standing testament to our history. The South had a period of racism and backwardness that we had many reckonings with. We see testaments to this by statues of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and even Forrest. No one in the history of humanity has ever looked at a statue depicting a Confederate and suddenly become a vicious racist. Instead, they may ask about its history and the character of the person. That gives an opportunity to teach.
The question is not about the specific statues and who they depict. Rather, it is about the historical significance of all statues and monuments and what they represent. A museum is a place where human history is shown, and human history is a tale of brutality and evil. It just is. It would be impossible to find a single person in history who did not do something wrong or even possibly evil.
The question is can we reflect on that history with gratitude that we have grown up in a time where slavery doesn’t exist or where racism has become less common. Whether the statue is of Forrest or our Founding Fathers, evil will be a part of that story because evil is a part of the human story.