The Federal Government’s Monuments to White Supremacy
The violence in Charlottesville this past weekend has already pushed the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky to take steps to remove its Confederate monuments. A councilman in Baltimore wants to see its monument of Lee and Jackson destroyed. Protesters marched last night in Richmond down Monument Avenue. This will continue and more monuments will come down.
What I find somewhat curious, is that no one is talking about Confederate monuments across our nation’s Civil War battlefields operated by the National Park Service. These monuments are overseen by the federal government and maintained with your tax dollars. They have not received the same amount of attention largely because you have to travel long distances to see them. They don’t define our local commemorative landscapes.
These monuments do, however, raise some of the very same questions that are currently being debated in communities across the country. If the Lee monument in Charlottesville is problematic than what can be said about Gettysburg’s Lee monument? Lee dominates Seminary Ridge making it possible for anyone to imagine a glorious Confederate victory whenever they choose. Not too far away the soldiers of North Carolina inch forward with their last ounce of strength in the direction of the farm of a free black family that was forced to flee when Lee’s army of slave catchers entered Pennsylvania in late June 1863.
Both of these monuments were erected at the height of the Jim Crow-era. Like other Confederate monuments across the country they ought to be referred to as monuments to white supremacy. For many they help to define these battlefield landscapes as a vindication of the Confederate cause.
In Virginia the Federal Government maintains the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine,” where the general breathed his last. Just steps away from “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial” stands a Confederate monument that openly celebrates the cause of the Confederacy and the loyal “Mammy” figure. Confederate soldiers lay permanently at rest around the monument just steps away from Americans who have given their lives to preserve this Union.
These monuments went up at the height of the Jim Crow-era and at a time when the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. was seriously debating the erection of a national monument to the loyal slave.
Communities across the country are asking whether these monuments define who they are. When will we begin to ask whether this is who we are as a nation?