As Monuments Tumble, Are We ‘Erasing’ History? Historians Say NoHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Civil War, memorials, statues, public history, White Supremacy
While President Trump and others have called the removals an attempt to erase American history, historians have long discounted Confederate memorials as accurate representations of the Civil War.
Erected in most cases decades after the war ended, the monuments better illustrate how white southerners sought to rewrite history and impart noble motives to the dead, they say.
“I’ve been studying history in some ways all my life. I’ve been doing it professionally for over 30 years, and I can’t say that I’ve ever learned much history at all from a monument,” said Kenneth Noe, Draughon Professor of Southern History at Auburn University. “Those aren’t the sources we use.”
University of Alabama history professor Hilary Green was succinct.
“Monuments do a very poor job in talking about history,” she said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke to five historians who specialize in Civil War and Southern history about calls to remove Confederate statues many consider a vestige of segregation and white supremacy. William Sturkey, a professor of Southern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said white Southerners erected the monuments decades after the Civil War in a bloody campaign to reassert white supremacy and strip Blacks of newly earned freedoms.
“People that make the argument that taking down monuments is erasing history truly have no idea how much history has been erased,” he said. “These activist organizations (who erected the monuments) sought to reshape history, reshape the meaning behind the Civil War, reshape what happened during Reconstruction, reshape the participation of African Americans in the history of this region and in our country. Those were the people who were actually erased.”
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