The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate MonumentsBreaking News
tags: Civil War, Confederate Monuments
Six states include elements of Confederate flags in their official flags today. There are nine official state Confederate holidays. And as [the Southern Poverty Law Center] notes, there’s also the especially weird case of the 10 forts and military bases named for heroes of a cause that sought to defeat the U.S. military and killed tens of thousands of its soldiers. At the heat of the renaming push last summer, the Department of Defense was asked whether it was considering changing those names. A Pentagon spokesman said it was not.
The debate continues, in part because no one agrees on its terms, much less what conclusions they dictate. Some defenders of the Confederacy continue to insist, incorrectly, that the war was fought over something other than slavery. But some people, including those who deplore the Confederacy, have staked out middle grounds, like arguing for the removal of flags but not all monuments.
“Leaving Confederate memorials up and supplementing them with more accurate historical monuments as well as contextualizing markers is not a perfect solution,” Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts wrote in The Atlantic last year. “But the statues also bear mute witness to the Jim Crow culture that venerated men who initiated a bloody civil war to protect an inhumane institution. If they make the public uneasy, that is because this past is uncomfortable.”
This argument seems to founder on the details. Does the grand boulevard of Richmond’s Monument Avenue stand as a rebuke to the white-supremacist South where it was built? Or does it simply glorify the traitors it depicts in elaborate, heroic fashion? The unanimous vote by city leaders to add a statue of the black tennis star Arthur Ashe in 1995 certainly implied the latter, but the tacked-on juxtaposition simply accents the inherent flaws in Monument Avenue’s existence.
Some of the sites on SPLC’s list raise more subtle questions, however. The organization says it has excluded “approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events,” but some are judgment calls. Does a 10-inch cannon installed at Mobile, Alabama, glorify the Confederacy? Others mark easily defensible and historically important sites in unfortunate ways: A marker in Bloomfield, Iowa, that marks the furthest northern incursion of rebel forces into the Hawkeye State, for example, sports a Confederate flag and a plaque placed by the neo-Confederate group the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
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