Tear Them All Down

I’ve about had a enough of these arguments defending Confederate monuments.

Yesterday, workers in New Orleans began the process of taking down the first of four monuments celebrating the memory of the Confederacy and white supremacy. And people are losing their minds. The first monument to come down was built to honor the Battle of Liberty Place (1874), a three-day hostile take over of the New Orleans government by the white supremacist paramilitary group known as the White League. The monument went up in 1891 to honor this insurrection, and to make sure everyone knew exactly what these racists were fighting for, the inscription on the monument reads:

“[Democrats] McEnery and Penny having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored).
United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

(Inscription added in 1932. Emphasis added in 2017, by me.)

800px-NOLAWhiteLeagueMonumentByTracks
Pictured here: a marker celebrating racism. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is a literal monument to white supremacy. And yet, a number of people go so upset that the city workers who took this monument down on Monday had to do so wearing flak jackets and helmets for fear of a possible hostile response.

Yeah. Chew on that.

Denouncements from racists aren’t surprising, let’s be honest. The ones that really get under my skin are the people who keep claiming that taking down these monuments will “erase the history.” No matter how bad that history is, we should leave these monuments up, or risk “making the same mistakes.”

Really? That’s what you are worried about? You’re concerned people will forget about the atrocities of white supremacist terrorist organizations, or the damning legacy of slavery that shaped all aspects of Antebellum life?

Yes, taking down four monuments will erase all knowledge and memory of the deepest historical scars that continue to run through American society.

I tell my students all the time that people often use history to sell a perspective. Politicians certainly love to do it, but this is a perfect example of how people build faulty arguments, wrap them them in the defensive guise of “history” and cling to that until their dying days.

For this current issue, this approach spans the aisle. These monuments are healing the political divide in this country as I type. Self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives alike have come out of the woodwork to defend the continued existence of these marble markers of white supremacy. One comment, which has become my personal favorite, made use of this historical argument approach to voice their support of the monuments, stated (paraphrased), “I am a liberal, but I am a proud southerner, and I will always be sad these historical markers are coming down. They commemorate an ugly time in history, but it’s history, so they need preserving.”

Well, honey darlin’, I have some bad news for you. These monuments aren’t preserving any history. They only thing these monuments preserve is that proud southern heritage of glorifying an Antebellum past when white supremacy could still claim to reign. Bless your heart.

I’ll end this here, because I’ve had enough. If you are upset these monuments are coming down, at least be honest about why you are. You are sad to see that romanticized memory of the “good ol’ days” come down. You may be angry people don’t want to see markers of the Confederacy as something worth celebrating. But stop using history as the basis for your claims. Four monuments coming down isn’t erasing anything. Outside of WWII, I don’t know if there is another subject historians have studied and published more books on than the Antebellum South and the American Civil War. Seriously. There are thousands of books out there on this very topic. Historians are preserving what happened in the past, so if that is your concern, rest easy.

Just be aware, it may not be the kind of narrative you hope to read.

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