Don’t really believe in taking Confederate monuments down. The fact the white supremacists were lionized for so long is also history.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) June 24, 2015
I am not sure if Ta-Nehesi Coates is being sarcastic or not with this tweet, but I agree with this statement.
Along these lines, I found Kevin Levin’s recent post at Civil War Memory to be helpful. Here is a taste:
In 2011 I wrote the following in an essay for the Atlantic following the defacing of Confederate monuments in Richmond and my then hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia:
For me, Richmond’s memorial landscape functions as an organic whole. The Arthur Ashe Monument only works because it stands on the same street as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. The same holds true for the new additions to the grounds of the state capital, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar, and countless other places in the broader Richmond area.Touring these sites together opens up a unique window not simply on the history of the Civil War and race relations, but on the history of American democracy. The sites themselves track the range of voices that fought for the right to engage in public discussions about how Richmond’s past is remembered. In short, they track the history of the community’s values — and they demonstrate that community’s willingness not to brush aside controversial or embarrassing aspects of its past.The Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville has long been one of my favorite places to bring students. I’ve spent countless hours in that park sharing stories of Lee, the development of Richmond in the late 19th century, and Jim Crow laws. These discussions were more than academic exercises; they gave me a chance to help build reflective and caring citizens.Teaching history and visiting historic sites is, in part, about learning how to empathize and appreciating how the past shapes who we take ourselves to be. For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places. We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.
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