"I've studied the history of Confederate memorials. Here's what to do about them."

Historians in the News
tags: Confederate Monuments, W Fitzhugh Brundage



W. Fitzhugh Brundage is the William B. Umstead Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the scholarly adviser to the Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina project.

... So how should we move forward to dismantle the Confederate commemorative landscape? We should begin by acknowledging that the American South is now a pluralist society for the first time in its history. Whereas the current commemorative landscape of the South is a product of white privilege and power, the future landscape should be crafted after inclusive public debate and through democratic procedures. New Orleans and Baltimore, which conducted public conversations about the removal of monuments, can serve as models for other communities. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has provided an exceptionally articulate justification for the removal of Confederate memorials.

A crucial step in many Southern states will be to repeal laws constraining the removal or alteration of historic monuments, such as North Carolina’s two-year-old Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act. Let there be no doubt about the intent of this or similar “heritage preservation” laws: They “protect” and perpetuate the racist commemorative landscape that currently exists. Why shouldn’t the citizens of Durham have had the choice to preserve, move, or remove the Confederate monument there? Local choice may allow some communities to keep “their” Confederate monuments. So be it. Let them defend their decision if they do so.

We are also sure to hear calls to add monuments (honoring African Americans, for example) as an alternative to removing those we find offensive, and thereby “erasing” history. But removing — or moving — Confederate monuments is not historical erasure. The same logic could have been used to justify maintaining, after 1964, signs that identified “Negro water fountains,” “Colored waiting room,” and the other markers of Southern segregation.

In an ideal world with unlimited resources, a proposal to add monuments might make sense. But given the vast number of monuments to the Confederacy across the United States it would take decades, and millions of dollars, to add enough statuary to create a more inclusive commemorative landscape. And is there any reason to believe that state legislators are going to appropriate sufficient money for that purpose? Perhaps the defenders of Confederate monuments will demonstrate their good faith by pressing for funding for new monuments to Southerners, white and black, who fought on behalf of the Union or otherwise opposed the Confederacy. Until then, I will view their devotion to heritage preservation with skepticism. ...





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