One of the arguments against removing Confederate monuments (or any monument, for that matter) is that such an act is the equivalent of “erasing history.” I don’t think this concern should be dismissed so easily just because a bunch of white supremacists came to Charlottesville to defend a monument of Robert E. Lee.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was appalled at Donald Trump’s failure to make a moral differentiation between the white supremacists in Charlottesville last weekend and the group that opposed them. But I do think Trump asked a series of fair questions when he said “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop.”
So where does it stop? If you are asking this question, it doesn’t make you a racist, a white supremacist, a member of the alt-Right, or a neo-Nazi. It is a legitimate historical question about how the past informs the present and how we should remember and commemorate what has happened in bygone eras.
I have done several posts on this issue that might help you to think this through.
- Here is a post on Annette Gordon-Reed’s response to the very question Trump asked yesterday.
- Here is a post on the 1776 removal of New York statue to George III.
- Here is a post on W.E.B. DuBois on Confederate monuments.
- Here is a post on Yale historian David Blight on this issue.
- Here is a post on New Yorker writer and historian Jelani Cobb on this issue.
We can continue to debate what to do with Confederate monuments, but over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz has a message for all of those folks who are suddenly concerned about “erasing history.”
Here is a taste:
But if you’re one of those people who’s up in arms about the dangers of #ErasingHistory, then let me suggest a few ways you might better expend your time and passion in service of the past than by taking up a Lost Cause:
• Encourage your ancient Rome- or WWII-loving teenager to consider majoring in history. “But everyone knows that’s a useless major,” they’ll reply. “No, it’s not,” you’ll calmly respond. And hand them empirical data. (Because that’s how teenagers make decisions.)
• Complain to your alma mater the next time they fail to replace a retiring history professor, or when you find out that most of their history teaching load is born by overworked, underpaid adjuncts.
• Ask your local principal or school district superintendent to explain the budgetary and curricular implications for social studies of that shiny new STEM program they (like all their competitors) keep promoting.
• Call your representative or senator to protest the next federal budget proposal that threatens to defund the public endowment that makes possible dozens of valuable projects in historical research and interpretation.
• Or if you prefer free market solutions… Buy a membership in your local attendance-challenged historical museum or site, and purchase history books by actual historians: like this David, this David, this David, or this David instead of this David.
Great post! Read all of it here.