by Barbara Joy Cooley
The removal of Confederate statues and memorials is nothing new. This has been going on for decades. According to Jane Dailey, associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, “Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past. But were rather, erecting them toward a white supremacist future.”
A white supremacist future goes against core American values such as liberty, equal rights, and justice. When we decide to take down these monuments and statues, relegating them often to museums, we are deciding to uphold these core American values. We are not erasing history; we are accurately portraying who we are as a country.
In America, we have a strong union, unlike the sometimes seemingly tenuous union in Europe. Our union was forged by the Civil War – the deadliest war in our history. When we remove statues of Confederate generals from places of public honor and put them in museums where they are displayed in context, we are presenting a more accurate picture of history, and we are declaring our patriotism, our devotion to these United States of America.
When we remove those Confederate monuments, we are also treating all Americans with respect – especially including those Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. I do not refer to these ancestors as slaves; rather, they were people who were enslaved, wrongly enslaved. They deserved liberty, not chains. America is all about liberty, not chains.
In nearby downtown Fort Myers, citizens have asked that the bust of Robert E. Lee not be returned to the public square, but rather, they say, it should be placed in a museum, and a liberty fountain should be installed on the public square in its place. The bust is at a professional restoration company, undergoing maintenance. When that’s finished would be an ideal time for it to go to a museum.
In that square across from the City of Palms parking garage and the U.S. Post Office could instead be a fountain signifying liberty and justice for all.
If you think these Confederate statues are not hurtful to black Americans, think again. For example, my Facebook friend Monique Thomas, a black American musician living in France, said recently, “There is no higher celebration than a statue. Taking down [Confederate] statues does not erase history. Firstly taking them down corrects a wrong because they never should have been erected in the first place. Secondly we learn history mostly through books (many of which need to be rewritten). You’ll never forget Hitler or Bin Laden (no statues that I know of!) . . . So please stop nit-picking about the statues. They are a hurtful reminder to your dear Black friends of how we are devalued and you wanting to keep them adds salt to the wound.”
As this country moves forward in this trend, removing and dismantling over 700 Confederate statues and monuments(1), we should replace them with monuments that represent liberty and justice for all. As we move in this direction, we move toward a future where we are all equal, liberty reigns, and racism dies.