Friday, October 04, 2019

A third way emerges in Confederate monuments debate: Keep them, but place signs explaining their racist history

A Confederate monument in Nashville was vandalized
in June (Associated Press photo by Mark Humphrey)
Monuments to Confederates have become more controversial in recent years, with some saying they celebrate racism and should be removed, and others saying they should stay because they're just a way of remembering history. Now some places "are exploring a new way to deal with the country’s Confederate monuments: place explanatory panels on or alongside the statues detailing the real history behind them," Hannah Natanson reports for The Washington Post. "It’s the latest frontier in the nation’s ongoing — and, in recent years, horrifically violent — reckoning with the statues, troubling testaments to the country’s racist past."

There are about 1,700 Confederate monuments. Most went up between the 1890s and 1920s with the rise of Jim Crow laws, and more were erected in the 1940s and 1950s after desegregation of the military and public schools, to assert white supremacy, says James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.

"Though many African Americans have disliked and protested against the monuments since their installation, Grossman said, opposition to Confederate symbols exploded into the mainstream following deadly racial violence in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and in Charlottesville in 2017," Natanson reports. "Towns and cities across the country have been struggling to decide how to handle their statues ever since."

The issue has been compounded in many states or localities by laws that protect the monuments. "At least seven states passed legislation in recent years to protect their Confederate monuments, a wave that began around the 2000s and includes a law passed as recently as 2017," Natanson reports. "Such statutes, which vary in language but generally prohibit removal of the monuments, are in effect in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia." Those were seven of the Confederate states; the others are Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

So, if the statues can't be removed, many support installing markers that note the racism of the Confederacy. "Proponents of installing explanatory markers say that — especially in states where removal is illegal — the tactic is realistic, inexpensive and swiftly achievable," Natanson reports.

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