Toppling monuments to oppressors is an American tradition

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tags: Confederate Memorials



Ken Lawrence co-founded the Deep South People's History Project.

… The tradition of toppling monuments and tearing down symbols of oppressors, foes, and false gods is almost as ancient as the tradition of erecting them. It’s as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July, almost literally.

On July 9, 1776, immediately after the Declaration of Independence was read at New York to George Washington’s army, a group of soldiers and local citizens went to Bowling Green Park in Manhattan where they pulled down and dismembered a large gilded monument of King George III on horseback.

Lead from the statue was melted down into 42,088 musket balls, which the Continental Army used as ammunition in the Revolutionary War. One might accuse that mob of having rewritten history, but if they did, it wasn’t by erasing the memory of a despised despot from history books or from lessons taught to later generations of school children, even though visitors to Bowling Green Park are no longer able to play in the shadow of a toga-clad tyrant.

Anyone who wishes to celebrate or mourn the memory of George III, including descendants of colonial American Tories and their Hessian mercenaries, is free to do so. But no one should have the power to impose the king’s image as a lesson model for Americans. Such an attempt would rightfully be condemned as myth-making, not praised as honoring history.

With respect to Confederate symbols, the issue is not simply one of respecting the dead, as in a cemetery, or their notable achievements, as in a museum display. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these images were placed in government buildings and public spaces as affirmations that white supremacy had been restored after the overthrow of Reconstruction-era interracial Republican governments.

Last summer, after a deranged white racist named Dylann Roof, who embraced the Confederate battle flag as the emblem of his doctrine, murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and shocked the conscience of the community, the push to remove symbols that incited race hatred from public places gained momentum.

This was not a new issue in Georgia. The Confederate battle flag had been incorporated into the design of the Georgia state flag in 1956 as a gesture of segregationist defiance to racial integration. After decades of debate and a few failed attempts at compromise, the legislature finally voted to remove the offensive emblem in May 2003, and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law….




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