At the Heart of the Confederate Monument Debate

This week Anderson, South Carolina held public hearings to discuss the future of its Confederate monument, located near the local courthouse. A number of residents spoke, but I want to highlight Sam Brooks, a lifelong resident of the community, who believes the monument should be relocated to a place where it can be properly contextualized.

Here is a brief excerpt from that testimony that cuts to the heart of this issue:

I am asking you to decide if those that fought for Robert E. Lee, those who fought for slavery were in the right. Because if they are right, Ms. Gracie should not be on your council. If that’s true, if that’s what we believe Mayor Roberts should not be our mayor. If that’s true than Matthew shouldn’t be able to be a pastor in our community. And so as a town of Anderson, is that the ideals that we want to lift up and say we believe in?

Brooks is a reminder that this debate will continue to be driven by young Black and white community members, who have learned a very different history of the state and nation from that of their parents and grandparents, and who believe that the monuments no longer reflect the collective values of their communities.

What an impressive young man.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

14 comments… add one
  • Craig L. Dec 4, 2020 @ 12:32

    The Cambodians have the right idea. Near the entrance to Angkor Wat there’s a public square surrounded by government buildings and at the center of the square is a large glass case full of human skulls that make you think of freshly popped popcorn.

  • Jon Nov 27, 2020 @ 19:41

    Hi Kevin,

    I’ve enjoyed your articles and blog posts over the years, you do great work. Why has it taken you so long to come around to supporting the removal of Confederate monuments? I remember not to long ago you were against their removal. I’m interested in hearing about your thought process and how you came to change your views.

    Thank you.

  • Neil Hamilton Nov 14, 2020 @ 16:27

    It does not belong on the near or on the Courthouse lawn. The Confederacy did not win the right to preserve it’s cause or identity. The young man is right, as the statue sends the wrong message and was diverted from it’s original site. Why and when was it moved from the original site? This issue has been stalled not defeated, and as for wanting to keep it for “memories” of those who fought, fine, just remember it from another location.

    It sends the wrong message and it gives the decided wrong opinion that the cause was something of worth.

  • Aggie Nov 14, 2020 @ 6:20

    We need to remember our history and learn from it. I wish folks would give credit to where we came from and be proud of how far we’ve traveled in improving our life and our bright future.

  • PeterK Nov 13, 2020 @ 19:03

    sadly the young people speaking out against the monuments lack a solid grounding in history

    • Jimmy Dick Nov 16, 2020 @ 18:05

      Are you saying those young people do not understand that the men who fought for the Confederacy supported slavery and were committing treason? It seems to me they understand that history quite well. They also see how that monument stands for racism and you apparently choose not to see that. What history does that monument represent to you?

    • Joshism Nov 17, 2020 @ 10:10

      Inscribed upon the monument:
      “The World shall yet decide, in Truth’s clear, far-off light, That the soldiers who wore the gray, and died with Lee were in the right.”

      Are you arguing that a solid grounding of history reveals the Confederates were right to unilaterally succeed because they disagreed with the outcome of a fair election?

  • Vicki Latham Nov 13, 2020 @ 16:33

    I want to keep it right where it is. If you will go on we the people of Anderson the majority wants it to stay.

  • Andersonh1 Nov 13, 2020 @ 8:46

    I attended an Anderson County Council meeting a few months ago where this topic was also discussed. I found it interesting that almost without exception, every person who got up and spoke in favor of removing the monument spoke about racial issues, while everyone who got up and spoke in favor of keeping it talked about family who had fought in the war or died during the war. It was a clarifying moment for me about the different ways in which we view these monuments.

    More wanted to keep it than remove it, by the way. It was almost 2 to 1 in favor of keeping it. At that meeting, just like the story you linked to here, a Council member noted that they can’t do anything. The General Assembly would have to approve any changes.

    • Matt McKeon Nov 15, 2020 @ 16:40

      As I have said before, its a shame that local municipalities aren’t allowed control and decision making over their own public spaces. If they did, some places would move, or remove statues, others wouldn’t. With the state preventing this, the issue festers.

      An endlessly festering issue has its advantages for politicians. But I doubt if the communities involved or history benefits.

      • Andy Hall Dec 2, 2020 @ 12:32

        As I have said before, its a shame that local municipalities aren’t allowed control and decision making over their own public spaces. If they did, some places would move, or remove statues, others wouldn’t. With the state preventing this, the issue festers.

        Exactly so. It should be up to each community to make its own decisions. Various monument protection laws passed at the state level deprive local communities of the ability to decide for themselves, and that’s (among other things) an example of the top-down governmental oppression that Confederate heritage advocates today insist their ancestors were fighting against.

        • Reggie Bartlett Dec 4, 2020 @ 8:10

          Some of the communities had their monuments destroyed anyway.

          Levin after all had celebrated when a hurricane destroyed the one in Lake Charles. And that isn’t counting those in North Carolina that were attacked by rioters.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 4, 2020 @ 9:23

            Levin after all had celebrated when a hurricane destroyed the one in Lake Charles.

            I did?

  • Chris Barry Nov 13, 2020 @ 7:10

    Well said.

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.