What Changed in Places that Removed Monuments?

Let me explain.

The one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and subsequent decisions by communities across the country to remove and/or relocate Confederate iconography, such as flags and monuments, has led to some rather curious op-eds. Many of them have posed the question of what, if anything, has changed since their removal.

It’s a strange question to ask because it assumes that the removal of a monument is justified solely on the grounds that it will lead to broader change. Certainly it might make room for new monuments that more accurately reflect the collective values of the community or serve as a catalyst for other issues related to racial justice, but this is besides the point.

What appears to be overlooked is the very fact of the monuments removal. What has changed in these communities is that the monuments and/or flags are no longer present. I suspect that this fact, in and of itself, is the change that most activists struggled to make a reality. In other words, the act of removal itself has intrinsic value.

Go back and listen to interviews with people in New Orleans, where the highest object in the community was a monument to a man who fought for a nation that if successful would have kept the ancestors of many of the residents in the neighborhood enslaved.

What has changed is that the parents of a five-year old black girl never have to try to explain why such a man continues to enjoy this honor.

Any questions?

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

20 comments… add one
  • Anderson Aug 16, 2018 @ 16:42

    Nothing has changed. If anything, things are worse than they were before. For a day or two, people felt good and patted themselves on the back for their symbolic removal of a statue, and then went right back to the same problems, and the same inability to show respect for a differing point of view. Now that the fix has worn off, many activists are no doubt looking for the next one.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Aug 16, 2018 @ 14:49

    Abraham Lincoln was a Jefferson man through and through. Lincoln was unequivocal that the Declaration was the document that truly defined us. Jefferson meant what he wrote in regards to being “created equal.” Alexander Stephens certainly thought so, and went out of his way to say the Founders were wrong about the equality “of the races.” To argue otherwise is to promote Confederate propaganda. It is what some people who tote the battle flag around still claim.

    Those who broke from Britain and those who established the Constitution grappled with slavery in many ways. No doubt the latter group, which ironically did not include Jefferson, sanctioned slavery by law. But had they not done so there would never have been ratification. Never. That said, they also allowed the law to change and the Constitution to be amended so as to destroy slavery.

    On the contrary, the Confederate leaders ratified a document that stated no “ex post facto law” nor “bill of attainder” could ever be passed regarding slavery. It was perpetual in their minds and they made it the law of the land.

    They were not the Founders. Not at all. Thank goodness Lincoln saw the distinction.

  • Kellen Aug 16, 2018 @ 13:08

    Just to be clear, the Founders were slave-owners and slave-traffickers who put their lives on the line to create a slave Republic. There is no minimizing that fact, and it’s confusing that anyone would want to. And there is certainly no reason to give them credit for the fact that succeeding generations, long after they were all dead and gone, corrected the moral repugnancies which were incorporated into the system of government they established.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 16, 2018 @ 13:13

      I am in no way attempting to minimize the fact that the founding of the United States included provisions that protected and allowed for the expansion of slavery. That said, not all the Founders were slave holders and even for those who did the rhetoric of the Revolution led a number of them to question it. Again, I am not denying that the United States was established as a slaveholding nation.

      That said, it still seems to me that we can draw a distinction between the Founders and those men who were willing to give their lives to destroy this nation to create a slaveholding Republic.

  • Kellen Aug 16, 2018 @ 6:21

    “What has changed is that the parents of a five-year old black girl never have to try to explain why such a man continues to enjoy this honor.”

    Not altogether so. The parents of that five-year old black girl still must explain why white-supremacists and slave-owners like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson continue to be honored. And why international slave-traffickers like Peter Fanueil and Elihu Yale also continue to be honored.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 16, 2018 @ 6:43

      In regard to the Founders they might draw the distinction between creating a nation that allowed for the eventual end of slavery and individuals like Lee who were willing to give their lives to create a slave owning nation.

      As for the others, these discussions are certainly worth having. Here in Boston there is a group campaigning to change the name of Faneuil Hall.

  • Jerry McKenzie Aug 16, 2018 @ 5:42

    Change does not happen overnight but in increments and removing honor from traitors and slavers is a good start.

  • David R. McCallister Aug 16, 2018 @ 5:14

    I think what you mean is – “…the parents of a five-year old black girl never have to teach her anything.”
    And that’s true for the parents of a little white girl, too.
    No history- no America.

    What has changed?
    In Tampa, the Rev. Thomas Scott has stated that race relations have gotten worse since the local memorial, Memoria in Aeterna, was moved away from the courthouse to a cemetery bordering on busy commercial street between a taco stand and a pawn shop. It’s still present- just relocated, like others in Florida and elsewhere. In the irony of unintended consequenses, thousands more see the memorial every day than ever did before. Instead of a monument of respect in a calm corner of the courthouse block, it is an ever-present open sore for resentments – on all sides of the issue. The Hillsborough County Commission is holding a race relations symposium specifically because of the unsatisfactory situation after the move. Antifa, BLM, NAACP, et al came in, did their nasty business, and did not go away. They lie just under the surface, like a painful case of shingles, ready to erupt again at any time- as was clearly shown in Washington last weekend.

  • Ed Thompson Aug 15, 2018 @ 16:38

    The question is “What changed?”. The answer is “nothing”. New Orleans is still the same place, with the same issues. Baltimore still has the same problems it had before. What it doesn’t have is a monument to an individual or individuals who led an armed insurrection against the duly elected government. Removing the monuments was never going to wipe out crime and corruption. They used a crane, not a magic wand, to remove the monuments. They still have the same problems. They still need to fix them. What they don’t have is a divisive monument to people who led a failed rebellion to preserve the right to hold a race of people in bondage and then conspired to keep in place codified discrimination. It’s amazing how some people can find monuments like that offensive.

    • Jonathan Dresner Aug 15, 2018 @ 18:57

      “They still have the same problems.”

      They may have 99 problems, but racist monuments ain’t one of them anymore.

  • David Doggett Aug 15, 2018 @ 16:18

    What changed is that blacks, moderate/liberal/progressive whites, and non-racist tourists no longer have a big middle finger in their face from long dead slavers. Well worth it.

    • Reggie Bartlett Aug 15, 2018 @ 16:49

      Well see there’s your problem, to liberal/progressive whites, everything is a big middle finger to the face. They are never satisfied, they are a miserable lot. Seeing as how the Lee Statue in New Orleans wasn’t even considered an issue to tourists before 2015 (well 2014, if you count that racist panhandler Wynton Marsalis giving Landrieu the bright idea). But seeing as how Jackson is a long dead slaver as well, TakemDownNOLA has him next on the chopping block.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2018 @ 16:54

        Well see there’s your problem, to liberal/progressive whites, everything is a big middle finger to the face.

        Says the person who can’t acknowledge that plenty of people might see a Confederate monument as a “big middle finger to the face.”

      • Fraser Aug 17, 2018 @ 7:56

        “Well see there’s your problem, to liberal/progressive whites, everything is a big middle finger to the face. They are never satisfied, they are a miserable lot.”

        Projection again. Large numbers of conservative whites will never be satisfied as long as people refuse to roll over for white supremacy in all its forms. As you say, it’s about fee-fees, but the special snowflakes are actually on the right.

  • Reggie Bartlett Aug 15, 2018 @ 12:58

    So. Nothing tangible?

    Baltimore is still a cesspit (now post-2015 it’s crime rate has gotten even worse, sans statues or not), New Orleans is still poorly run and dangerous, Memphis is still dangerous. Dallas and San Antonio are getting pretty scummy and Austin has floated the idea to rename itself.

    All about the fee-fees, not about the realies. Gotcha Levin.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2018 @ 13:06

      I think you missed the point of the post, but thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      The point is that the removal of a monument has value for those who supported it regardless of these larger issues.

  • Rarherdrive Aug 15, 2018 @ 12:19

    Perfectly explained and succinctly summed up. Well done.

  • Claudia Gibson Aug 15, 2018 @ 12:05

    “What has changed is that the parents of a five-year old black girl never have to try to explain why such a man continues to enjoy this honor.”
    So true. Love this.

    • Msb Aug 16, 2018 @ 0:44

      Gosh, statues affect crime rates? What was Lee accomplishing from his pedestal for all those years?

      • Msb Aug 16, 2018 @ 11:32

        Oops, this answer turned up in the wrong place. Sorry.

Leave a Reply to Jerry McKenzieCancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *