More Historical Reflection on Confederate Monuments

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Over at the website of the PBS News Hour, William Brangham talks Confederate monuments with historians Peniel Joseph and W. Fitzhugh Brundage.  Pierre McGraw of the Monumental Task Force also joined the conversation.

Here is a taste:

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Fitzhugh Brundage, I wonder if you could give us a bit of context here. I mean, there is some question as to why they monuments went up, what they are a monument or celebration of. Who put them up and why? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

W. FITZHUGH BRUNDAGE: University of North Carolina: Certainly. I think there’s not just the question of who put them up and why but also when. So, some monuments were put up in the first decades after the civil war and I think we could understand those monuments as being simultaneously monuments to the white Confederates who died for the Confederate republic, as well as symbols of grieve and certainly defiance. Those monuments tend to be located in cemeteries and were often put up by small local groups honoring local Confederates who were buried there.

Then, between 1890 and roughly 1930, there was an explosion of Confederate commemoration. And those monuments are bigger ones that we typically think of that are monuments of — monuments to Confederate soldiers often depicted in military garb, on top of a pedestal or a column. And those monuments often include inscriptions which honor not just the Confederate soldiers but the Confederate cause itself.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, Peniel Joseph, I’m curious if you’ve seen this, with the NEWSHOUR and NPR and Marist recently put out a poll that showed that roughly six in 10 Americans feel that for their historical value, that Confederate ought to stay up. I’m wondering what you would say to 60 percent of the nation who seems to believe that. What would you say to try to convince them of your point of view and what would you like us to do with them?

PENIEL JOSEPH: Well, I would tell them that these monuments are un-American. I would argue that these are symbols of white supremacy because one of the other things that happened after that period of 1930, that Fitzhugh Brundage spoke of is the 1950s and ‘60s after the Brown Supreme Court decision in 1954, different states start to put up the Confederate battle flag as white massive resistance against the idea of civil rights.

So, I would say that it’s un-American. It’s not — we think about our founding documents, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, we said that all people are created equal. Even though the document says all men, we’ve since expanded and revise that to include people who are gay or straight, Muslim, Christian, atheist, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, we truly are multicultural, multi-racial democracy. And that’s why we are the envy of the world.

We are only liberty’s surest guardian when we are true to our moral and political values. The Confederacy was not true to those values. Slavery is not true to those values. Racism, sexism, none of those things are true core American values.

So I would say we don’t need to honor Robert E. Lee, but we’re on sure ground when we honor abolitionists, when we honor the founding fathers and mothers, when we honor people who reflect the values of making America the world’s last best hope for freedom and democracy.

Read the entire conversation here.