What To Do About Confederate Monuments? Don’t Move Them, Improve Them
After the events in Charlottesville, I’m uneasy about this post.
There’s now discussion that the monuments in Macon might come down, and honestly… I don’t feel like I could argue too much against it. Yes, I stand by what I said below. But, it’s just not something that’s worth protesting against. If they are moved, they’re moved. Do I still hold concerns about people forgetting our ugly past? Yeah, but we also do a poor job of explaining it now. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have people actually supporting Neo-Nazi’s.
Of course, the events of this past weekend and how much they shocked me are likely a result of my own priviledge. I’ve had the luxury of not having to face it.
The other thing to bear in mind is- if people have hate in their hearts, a statue or a flag isn’t going to make it greater or take it away. That’s my biggest concern. Where that hate comes from. And not catching people early enough to educate them on the matter. As a history student, all of these pieces of Civl Rights History felt so disjointed somehow. No one ever drew them together for me, and it was just something I learned- I was always more interested in European History as it was anyway. But I truly wondered why people were so angry when the Civil War had been over for so long. I romanticized Gone With the Wind and read it many times without seeing the ugly behind it, other than Scarlett’s fight for survival. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really began to realize, oh wait, there are people living who had their rights denied. And it was systemic from before and after that Civil War. And in many ways, continues on today.
But today- it’s in our faces. We cannot ignore it or blindly learn the history. Because it is no longer shameful for some to hide their hate. They wear it with pride. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Will we fight? And how? With love? With education? Or will we match their rage? Perhaps all of those things? I’m angry. I’m hurt. And I’m tired- but every time I get tired, everytime I’m told I’m wrong, everytime I’m accused of being a racist myself- I try to look inward and remind myself that others have been fighting the fight for far longer than me.
Original Post (April, 2017):
I think most people are aware by now that I’m a pretty liberal leaning person these days, and if not then perhaps my essay on the Charleston Shooting could clarify that for you. (Read here.)
So this next statement might surprise you.
I don’t support the tearing down of Confederate monuments.
Oh yeah, I’ve got you really confused now. But bear with me here and take a listen.
I’m a student of history.
When I look at these monuments, I first see something that is a work of art. The creation itself is many times beautiful, likely in memory of some fallen hero. Or heroine, occasionally.
And then when I look closer, the words “in Memory of our Confederate dead” haunt me. Or others speaking on Confederate heroism. They instantly make me think of the slaves who suffered, who were raped, beaten, serving these men. Where are their memorials?
It’s been almost two years since Charleston. Since people were shot to death in a house of worship under the guise of a man who proclaimed the Confederate flag as his. I’ve heard friends say that he- I won’t say his name- was taking their heritage away from them. But was he really?
He claimed a flag as his own, without understanding it’s very nuanced history. Or maybe he did. Maybe he knew that The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, what is nearly universally known as “The Confederate Flag”, was added to many states flags in the 1950’s, and we all know what was happening at that time.
“The State of Georgia’s flag from 1956 until 2001 held that same Confederate battle flag on it. From Wikipedia: ‘The 1956 flag was adopted in an era when the Georgian General Assembly “was entirely devoted to passing legislation that would preserve segregation and white supremacy”, according to a 2000 research report by the Georgian senate’.”
A war was fought and raged to preserve a way of life. Whatever those soldiers may or may not have believed in is moot, war split our country apart. And in the South, memorials were raised to mourn the loss of lives and life. But there were none raised in that time to testify to the black-skinned men and women who gave their lives. Who hung in the hangman’s noose. Whose lives were stolen once they stepped on the auctioneer’s block, even if they still breathed the air around them, their lives did not belong to them.
The memorials should be left in place, but others should be placed next to them. My fear is that we will forget what happened, the genocide that took place on our soil, and the fact that many still glorify it today if we tear them down.
But add another story to the context, erect other monuments. There are some out there. I especially think of The Wanderer Memorial on Jekyll Island. The last slave ship to smuggle people into the United States:
“On November 28, 1858, approximately 409 captive men, women, and children were brought to shore on Jekyll Island. They were illegally smuggled into the United States aboard the Wanderer, a luxury yacht turned slave ship.
These captive men, women, and children were among the last groups of enslaved Africans sold into captivity in America. The Wanderer Memorial text panels describe the ship’s landing, the trial of the slave runners, and the fate and legacy of many of the enslaved Africans.
The memorial, located in the St. Andrew’s Picnic Area, was dedicated in 2008, on the 150th Anniversary of the ship’s landing, to honor the survivors of the voyage. The Jekyll Island Museum continues to actively research what became of the Wanderer survivors.”
We need more of these stories. We need them to be placed in context with the monuments already erected, rather than tearing those currently up down. Maybe even a plaque next to the current monuments, telling the story about how these monuments were erected after a war that was lost.
Of course the question then comes, how to pay for them? I guess the same way in how we pay to remove them. With city funds of some kind, I’m guessing. Or perhaps by calling upon the people who want the current monuments to stay to help raise funds for new ones. I’m not sure.
I can appreciate friends and former co-workers who work to honor their Confederate heritage. Many times when you talk to them, they will acknowledge the horrors committed at that time. Even if you do have to work to get them there a bit. They acknowledge slavery was wrong, even if they don’t agree that slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. Still others simply want to pay honor to their lineage, those that they came from. I can sympathize, being the descendant of not only people who fought in the Civil War but also slave owners and even my own dear Great-Grandmother who worked for George Wallace. I have a difficult time reconciling remembering her with love, but also recognizing that she worked for such a hateful person. And that she loved him.
I suspect you would find that these people would also support memorials erected to acknowledge all those who died even prior to the fighting of this war. The good souls who were robbed of their motherlands, and brought in what must have been terrifying conditions to a place that some might argue continues to enslave them even today.
Something that we can easily forget is that our history is not easy. It’s not all camellias and columns. It’s not always something that’s obviously beautiful. But there is a kind of beauty in acknowledging the pain that has come from our ancestors. In turning to those who don’t look like us and say “I recognize that your hurt is real”.
Tell the stories of others who lived at that time and do not shy away from what was. The Confederacy existed, in all it’s ugly pretended glory, and to attempt to believe otherwise harms us all.
Love to all y’all,
Molly McWilliams Wilkins
Molly McWilliams Wilkins is a Southern culture commentator, web producer, and social media marketing maven. She is also a freelance writer who has worked with a variety of publications and online magazines including Bourbon & Boots, Paste Magazine, Macon Magazine, the 11th Hour, Macon Food & Culture Magazine, and as the Digital Content Editor for The Southern Weekend. Mommy first, fashionista, social media maven, writer, artist, dreamer and poet. Hangs on to her Oxford Commas by force. Addicted to shoes and purses- and lots of coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.