From Charlottesville, Va., to New Orleans, La., the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces and the debates over their removal are making national news. Numerous other Southern communities, large and small, are reconsidering the future of the Southern soldiers in marble and bronze that stand watch over their town squares and courthouses. What will be their fates? As a bi-monthly magazine, Civil War Times has a hard time being newsworthy and current. Often news stories that occur when we are putting an issue together will be “cold” by the time that issue is completed and sent off to the printer. The monument controversy, however, appears to be one that will remain topical for some time, and I feel that CWT needs to address the debate in some manner as it grows in intensity. I think it would be interesting, timely, and important for readers to hear views on monument removal. So to that end, I asked members of the magazine’s advisory board, all highly respected scholars and authors, as well as some other selected authorities, to send us their opinions on Confederate monument removal. Their interesting and thoughtful answers are diverse, and some are likely to be controversial. The removal of Confederate monuments is a complex issue.–D.B.S.
James J. Broomall
George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War
I am an academic historian who practices public history and advocates for preservation. The removal of Confederate monuments troubles me as much as the destruction of a historic building or the total “rehabilitation” of a battlefield. The built environment contains countless lessons if allowed to speak. Make no mistake, the bronze sentinels and stone plinths found primarily in Southern cities and towns offer an incomplete, even dangerous message if they remain silent. I can therefore appreciate why so many people wish for their removal. Confederate monuments are at once symbols of white supremacy, works of art, affirmations of the Lost Cause, and tributes to white Southerners. Yet, public history and preservation suggest that Confederate monuments can be used as tools for education, deliberation, and even protest. Interpretive signage and additional memorials or statuary offer one way to convey the thick historical and aesthetic layers associated with these relics. We can further democratize these spaces by capturing oral histories of the current monument debates, advocating teach-ins and dramatic performances, or encouraging viewers to create temporary discursive signage. Confederate monuments remind audiences of a painful past but can also give voice to contemporary social concerns and needs if they are allowed to speak.
Denman Chair of American History
University of Texas–San Antonio
Headlines frequently call for the removal of Confederate monuments. Scholars try to learn from case-to-case how we can help communities find a place to debate how the culture of Confederate veneration affects the lives of those who live in the shadow of proslavery symbols.
Many suggest that eradication of these public symbols will create safe spaces and reduce the hostility felt by those resentful of Confederate remnants. What if monuments today might become more creative? In Germany, artists install “stoperstein,” stumbling blocks on the pavement adorned with names and dates of Holocaust victims. These arresting public installations remind passersby of those led to their deaths by a monstrous and unjust government.
Americans witnessed a controversy over a 2016 “Fearless Girl” statue installation in lower Manhattan. Public art can raise hackles, as well as awareness of critical issues. Perhaps we would be better served by funding counter-monuments to feed the hunger for new and different stories told with imagination. Perhaps shared spaces can become places where conflicting interpretations of circumstances might be highlighted.
Static 19th and 20th century visions set in stone might seem objectionable, but it’s probably equally offensive to try to sanitize the past without a plan to feed the human desire for knowing what’s come before in order to understand what might lie ahead.