Monuments to a Government’s Failure

The Civil War is a strange case where the oppressors and terrorists, upon losing, were basically let alone to continue countless awful misdeeds, and the biggest slave owners retained all the power of government. The “freedom” blacks gained was purely notional until many decades later.

Imagine an alternate history where, instead, former slaves had been given real, meaningful citizenship: The right to vote unobstructed, to hold office, to receive the full protection of the law, and the opportunity to really be known and understood by the white population as fellow Americans. In this more just outcome, do we really think the citizens of the South, almost half black, would’ve chosen to publicly celebrate—with monuments and names of counties, towns, and streets—the cause to continue enslaving their children and neighbors?

We can’t know the answer, but I think it’s “absolutely not.”

These monuments exist because of the dismal failure of the government to protect its citizens from abuse; by fellow citizens, police, the courts, and the law.

If a community or its elected representatives desire it, they should come down in an orderly fashion, with the goal of preserving them. Communities deserve the freedom to decide what they will celebrate for the next few centuries.

The Civil War is better documented than it’s ever been, and if American schools and parents fail to teach history, a statue isn’t going to do it. What we’ve definitely failed to teach are the stories of the generations of Americans that lived under terror and de facto slavery after the war’s end, and through Jim Crow.

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