By Abigail Ramirez
“Blood and soil” and “white lives matter” are only two of the mantras shouted by white supremacists and Neo Nazis at the Unite the Right rally on the summer night of August 11, 2017. Enraged by the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove the 93 year old statue of former Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, the group marched into the lawn, torches in hand, ready to fight counter-protesters. The next day, riots erupted and fighting ensued; one woman was killed by rally member James A. Fields Jr., who hit her with his car while speeding into a crowd.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of society we live in today. A century and a half after after the end of the Civil War, after the end of slavery, some Americans still feel the need to honor and protect the legacy of the racist men who fought against the Union in the name of white supremacy. Many of these memorials were erected in the early 1900s with the introduction of Jim Crow laws in the South, and during the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s.
There are 755 monuments and statues of Confederate leaders still standing in the country as of early June, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As long as these memorials remain, American society will never outgrow its shameful history; there will always be those willing to defend their “blood and soil,” no matter the cost. In order to create the progressively understanding and equal society that many continue to fight for, statues and monuments of Confederate leaders must be removed or at least relocated and put in historical context.
After the tragic death of George Floyd and the visible eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement across the country, the stains of racial inequality in our history have become abundantly apparent. If there is a time to start the process of the mass removal or relocation of these statues and monuments, it is now.
Many protesters have already taken the initiative to take down or deface statues of confederates and slave-owners. Statues of the late Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, General J.E.B. Stuart, navy Captain Charles Linn, and even former vice president, John C. Calhoun were taken down all over the South. The Unite the Right protesters’ beloved Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was also vandalized and converted into a statement piece: the letters “BLM” were projected onto his horse, and a picture of George Floyd was projected onto the base of the statue.
These actions represent the movement of change that is taking America by storm. These protesters are not only the voice of the people, but also the voice of reason that city councils should have listened to a long time ago.
Ever since the men commemorated in these statues sided with the Confederate States of America and seceded, these men in particular made themselves enemies of the Union. Not only are they racists, they are also traitors who openly fought against us. So why do we still honor them?
Some believe that the Confederate statues and monuments are vital to preserving the Southern region and culture. Some seek to deflect the argument, pointing to the confederacy as fighting for state’s rights, not slavery. However, most historians agree that the statues were erected in order to preserve white supremacy. The Americans who remain tied to these roots feel that the Black Lives Matter movement is a threat to their way of life; protecting confederate statues is their way of preventing the country from moving on.
But, this twisted way of thinking is unacceptable. All humans are equal, no matter their race, gender, or sexuality; that is a fact. White supremacists and racists, stubborn to change or accept the truth, are not only keeping America from positive progression, but are also putting lives at stake. The fights between BLM protesters and counter protesters have proven to be fatal. Counter protesters must let go of the dead men that they are defending and value living people first.
“We can repair a monument, but we cannot bring back a life,” said Mayor John L. Rowe of Portsmouth, Virginia, according to CNN.
Besides, if counter protesters claim that their culture is rooted in tradition and history, they should not complain about statues being torn down, as that’s exactly what the Sons of Liberty did in the 1700s. When the colonists had enough of King George III’s oppression and tyranny, they denounced him as their monarch and tore down his statues in public squares.
The actions of BLM protesters are no different. Modern Americans tearing down statues realize that these racist, hateful traitors no longer represent them; they are not their leaders. Their actions are, therefore, wholly justified when viewed through a historical lens.
However, just as Mayor Rowe said, statues can be repaired, and when put in the proper setting, such as a Civil War museums with context, can be educational. Telling the stories of slavery, the Civil War, and systemic racism in the right way is vital to be able to move foward as a country. If Americans, as a collective, can understand that the Confederate statues represent a part of our country’s history that we must learn from, not imitate, then we can put ourselves on the right track towards racial equality and better understanding.
In place of the Confederate leaders, statues and monuments commemorating abolitionists like Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison should be erected in their place. Those who helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, led civil rights protests in their cities, and always fought for equality and understanding, not segregation, racism, and hate, should be the ones praised in this modern era.
The ways in which we portray the United States’ legacy in the physical world is becoming increasingly important to the future we create, and the legacy our generation will leave behind. If we begin to set a more inclusive and positive tone through the statues we erect and the values we celebrate, the next generation of Americans may be able to grow up in a country where all men and women are truly created and treated equally.