Friday, August 25, 2017

Monumental Decisions

A 121-year-old Confederate monument came down. This Kentucky town put it back up.” That was the title of the top story on the front page of the Aug. 21 Washington Post. I read that article with great interest, for I used to live near that Kentucky town.
Controversy over Confederate Monuments
The violent incidents in Charlottesville, Vir., on Aug. 11-12 at the Unite the Right rally have greatly heightened the debate concerning Confederate monuments and statues in the U.S.
That rally, as most of you know, was held in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was erected in 1924 in a Charlottesville city park, which was subsequently named Lee Park.
In the first week of June this year, Lee Park’s name was changed to Emancipation Park. The rally in Charlottesville was in protest against the announced plan to remove the statue of Lee from the park.
The drama in that Virginia city is linked to the strong movement across the U.S. to remove Confederate flags, statues, and monuments from public places. That movement gained considerable strength following the tragic June 2015 shooting in the African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
Moving the Louisville Monument
The Confederate Monument in Louisville was a 70-foot-tall monument that was erected in 1895 on the campus of the University of Louisville. It was designed to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate veterans who died in the Civil War.
During the last two months of 2016, the Louisville monument was moved to Brandenburg, Ky., an Ohio River town about 45 miles west of Louisville. Some 400 people attended the rededication ceremony, held on Memorial Day this year.
Brandenburg is the seat of Meade County, a small county of just over 28,000 people, predominantly white. Slightly over 4% were African-American according to the 2010 census. Meade Co. is also Trump country: nearly 71% voted for him in 2016.
The Monument at Brandenburg
From 1959 to 1963 June and I, along with our small children, lived in Ekron, a very small town less than seven miles from Brandenburg. We fairly often had picnics on the bank of the Ohio River, not far from where the Confederate monument is now located.
That was long before the bridge was built across the river, which you can see in the lower right corner of the following picture of the relocated monument. 
Debra Masterson, an assistant at the Meade County Chamber of Commerce, was one who worked to get the monument moved to Brandenburg. When her “boss” began to express misgivings, Masterson said. “You’re thinking, ‘What if people are talking about Brandenburg as KKK, as racists?’ Well, I don’t know any racists!”
Well, I don’t know much about Meade County now and have little remaining contact with the dear people we were so close to 55 years ago. But I know there were racists in Meade County, and in Ekron Baptist Church of which I was pastor, back then.
In another article (see here) I have given specific examples regarding the racism I experienced there. Suffice it to say here that while the schools were integrated then, there was strong de facto segregation in the local communities and sometimes expressions overt racism, perhaps especially in the churches.
States, cities, schools, etc. now have monumental decisions to make about what to do with existing Confederate monuments and memorials of all sorts. 
Moving such monuments/statues from cities with a sizeable percentage of African-Americans (such as Louisville) to predominantly white towns (such as Brandenburg) is probably not a helpful solution to the problem.
Maybe the time has come just to make decisions that will rid our nation of monuments honoring the racism of the past.

20 comments:

  1. Soon after posting this article, I saw/read this related op-ed article (in the Washington Post) written by an African-American man I highly respect: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-no-surprise-were-refighting-the-civil-war--it-never-really-ended/2017/08/24/fd9b2d00-88fe-11e7-a94f-3139abce39f5_story.html?utm_term=.2942278d45f7&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

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  2. Thinking Friend Mike Greer in Kentucky makes the following pertinent comments:

    "One recommendation here in Lexington is to move the statues to the historic Lexington Cemetery.

    "I think that there is no appropriate place for such gaudy monuments that glorify war, especially those that are meant to honor those who lead a bloody and obscene movement to destroy this constitutional democracy from within.

    "The intentional location of many of these statues near legislative, educational, and legal institutions served to make a statement to all African Americans that they would never achieve equal access to and justice from these institutions."

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Mike; I appreciate you sharing them and I think your recommendation is a good one.

      Just yesterday I saw (up close) for the first time here in Liberty, Mo., (where I live) the fairly modest statue commemorating Confederate veterans. It was in a cemetery, and although I do not support glorifying, or even honoring, those who fought to maintain the system of slavery in the South, it did not seem inappropriate for that statue to be there in the cemetery.

      Gaudy monuments in public places, such as in Lee Park in Charlottesville or such as the one now in Brandenburg, Ky., are different, and objectionable, it seems to me.

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  3. Thanks, Leroy. This is a provocative blog. I am sympathetic to the removal of the statues that were raised to promote what I regard as an immoral ideology (of white supremacy and an economy based upon the violation of the basic rights of humans). I am interested, though, in your and your readers' response to former secretary of state Condalezza Rice's opposition to removing them, on the premise that doing so is "sanitizing history" so we don't have to face what we really were and are. It would be analogous, I suppose, to blotting from memory the horror of the use of nuclear weapons on Japan to end WWII by removing statues that commemorate such horror (I seem to remember your posting a photo of such a statue years ago--I could be mistaken). Thanks for the post.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Milton. It is good to hear from you again.

      Because of what you wrote, I have just read (for the first time) what Condoleezza Rice said on "Fox and Friends" back in May. While she makes a valuable point about the need to remember history, I do not see how highly honoring R.E. Lee, for example, is remembering history in a constructive way.

      You are correct in noting that there are monuments to World War II in Japan--but certainly none (that I am aware of) that glorify that war and Japan's involvement in it.

      The most famous monument is in the Hiroshima Peace Park (which I have seen several times). On the cenotaph there is an epitaph was written (in Japanese, of course) by Tadayoshi Saika, Professor of English Literature at Hiroshima University. He also provided the English translation, "Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil."

      According to Wikipedia, which I think is correct, in November 1983 an explanation plaque in English was added in order to convey Professor Saika's intent that "we" refers to "all humanity", not specifically the Japanese or Americans, and that the "error" is the "evil of war."

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  4. Here is an email from a Thinking Friend responding to this morning's blog article:

    "The insanity of what is going on now to remove every shameful vestige of slavery from our history is illustrated by the fact that a Chinese American by name of Robert Lee was removed from his job of broadcasting at the University of Virginia football games because his name sounded like the Southern General Robert E. Lee. The real racial prejudice here that, without investigating, a man was removed from his job because his name sounded Southern and white. That is the real prejudice here."

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    1. Here is the response I made by email to this TF:

      I agree that the ESPN decision seems pretty ridiculous. But according to the New York Times, Robert Lee (the sportscaster) and ESPN decided that for safety reasons it would be better for him to broadcast some game other than the U. of Virginia game. He didn't lose his job and it was not because of prejudice against him. But his name is the same as the Confederate general, and it was decided by mutual agreement that it would be better for him not to broadcast the game for UVa in Charlottesville. Given what is going on there, that may not have been a bad decision.

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  5. "Racism" and "Hate" have become politically correct swear words intended to cause trouble and possibly violence. This is sad, because the traditional meanings carried weight, and the real thing still exists - I have met them.

    This week I was once again told that I am a racist by definition because I am a white man who lives in Missouri. He went on to say that "racism" is a Christian heresy, and so I am a not a true Christian either, by definition. We are revisiting the ways of the purgative Jesuit warriors of Spain and France, or Bobby Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

    May trouble find those who seek for it. Thankfully these are limited organizations and people, the average person out there is still good and appreciates friendship. May they once again find the meaning of Christ's words - Love your enemy; Love one another.

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  6. Local Thinking Friend David Nelson shares the following comments:

    "I believe the monument argument is a smoke-screen cover up of the deeper and more serious continuing issue of racism, white privilege and nativism. Perhaps this discussion can lead to more important discussions and healing. I continue to have hope."

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    1. David, I appreciate you reading and responding to this blog article, but I didn't understand what you meant by "the monument argument is a smoke-screen." What aspect of the argument do you mean, and who has erected a smoke-screen?

      Further, how do we have "more important discussions" with the white supremacists, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis? Are they willing to have civil discussions--and are we willing to listen to their complaints?

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    2. David responded to my reply above:

      "I can't get real excited about the statue debate because it feels useless to me. I can get invested in respectful conversations about racism that still infects our culture. I participate whenever I can in discussing a future growing out of hope, forgiveness and love. I continue to look inward to discern how I can be more hope filled, more forgiving and more loving to others, especially those I want to despise."

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  7. Here are substantial comments, as usual, from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your remarks and the vignette about Meade County.

    "Most of the Confederate monuments were erected in the early part of the twentieth century during a period of KKK resurgence. I doubt that the erection of any of these monuments had the approval of African-Americans or other minorities.

    "Mr. Trump has tried to use the slippery-slope argument in support of these monuments, but his argument is invalid because the 'Founding Fathers.' some of whom owned slaves, nonetheless stood for rights that were eventually extended to everyone. The Confederate leaders fought for an institution that is morally wrong.

    "As for the protesters, I would prefer that when white supremacists and their allies march, the counter-protesters sing hymns about love, peace, reconciliation, and the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind. Responding with violence is not the answer."

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    1. Eric, I fully agree with your last paragraph--and I am thankful that there were some counter-protesters there in Charlottesville who did just what you suggested. Did you see the video of the clergy lined up, arms linked, and praying for peace and justice one by one?

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  8. Here is the brief and pointed comment of local Thinking Friend Ed Chasteen:

    "We should not honor any reminder of slavery."

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  9. Here are pertinent comments made in the first part of an email from a Thinking Friend in New Mexico:

    "I, too, have been thinking about this issue. I think the age and location of the monument must be considered.

    "I agree with the governor of VA. If the monument is on public land, it should be moved to a private site or a museum where its place/context in history can be told. A monument to the Confederate soldier should be placed with one to a Union soldier."

    "The public has no right to tamper with those on private lands. Those erected 1865-1899 have more historical function. It is my opinion that those erected after 1900 probably were funded by the bigoted, white supremacist genre as a way of protesting the fact that the South lost the war."

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  10. It would be interesting to review the speeches given at the time these statues were originally dedicated. It's my understanding that most were funded by private groups when the KKK was in its ascendancy and Jim Crow laws were being enacted. I don't know if records were kept of what was said at the time, but I suspect that contemporary monument defenders might be embarrassed.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Clif. Yes, it would be interesting to see what was said in the speeches when the statues or monuments were dedicated. If you come across any such speeches, please let me (us) know.

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  11. Less than an hour ago I received this comment from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "I think the fuss over Confederate monuments is ridiculous. That is part of our history. There are a lot of things in our history I wish we could erase, but that is not one of them!"

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  12. I posted a link to this blog article on Facebook, and Phil Jansen, the son-in-law of my cousin David Seat, made the following rather lengthy comments:

    :I take a different tack which I am surprised isn't obvious to others. They are monuments to the Confederacy's failure. In one sense, every statue is a reminder of their defeat, and an opportunity to educate children and reflect on the losses incurred.

    "It is also important to remember that people fighting for the Confederacy did so for a myriad of reasons, with homestead/community protection trumping ideology the majority of the time. Most soldiers were not slave owners and were of little economic means. If we want to vilify anybody immortalized in a monument, let's limit it to the politicians that provoked the secession, for it was the average soldier that was subsequently placed in a most precarious position, complete with financial and peer pressure, with their life in the balance.

    "The reason this historical deconstruction is a slippery slope that should beg an immediate retreat is because there then is no stop, if one is to be fair.

    "Deconstruct the pyramids; Egyptians enslaved a people and oppressed others.

    "Take down the MLK Memorial and rename all streets in his honor. He opposed gay lifestyles and would naturally have opposed gay marriage.

    "Tear down anything connected to FDR; he interred the Japanese during WWII.

    "More drastic than anything, let's remove any vestiges of an American President who supported recolonization of black individuals to Africa and openly stated that he did not view them as social or political equals. Who is that? Abraham Lincoln.

    "Maybe we should form committees that walk through cemeteries, identifying people that didn't quite measure up, marking their headstones for removal. I'd sure be up for that if this is the tone our country is taking. People that have stolen or cheated from me are offensive. When they die, can I show evidence of their malfeasance and prevent a memorial to them?

    "The fact that the country is having this conversation is beyond short-sighted. The monuments were created by imperfect people in a different time. This compulsion to sanitize history is merely judging people of another time by our modern sensibilities. I have given several examples of why that would be a tragic thing to do."

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  13. Here is the response I made to Phil:

    (1) It is obviously not Lee’s defeat that is being memorialized in the former Lee Park in Charlottesville or on Monument Blvd. in Richmond.

    (2) As I will be alluding to in the blog article I will be posting tomorrow, the same sort of thing as you said about the Confederate soldiers could be said about the Germans who fought for Hitler or the Japanese who fought for Tojo. But there is not much sympathy shown in this country for the “average soldier” in Germany or Japan during WWII--and perhaps for good reason.

    (3) My article was about the Civil War, and it is a distraction to bring in other issues completely unrelated to that terrible conflict.

    (4) There is certainly no attempt on my part to “sanitize history.” On the contrary, it is to recognize the actions of the Confederate States of America and General Lee & his soldiers for what it was: treason against the United States of America accompanied by the employment of military action to protect the Southern way of life that was dependent upon slave labor and the subjection of black people to their white masters.

    (5) The objection to the statues of Lee and the Confederate soldiers is not about flawed individuals; it is about the systemic evil in which they were tragically entwined. Continuing to honor Lee and the Confederate soldiers is to condone that systemic evil, which is manifest in slavery, racism, and expressions of white supremacy.

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