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Architectural Digest on Confederate monuments, history of toppled statues

Leave it to Architectural Digest to produce a really great piece about the Confederate monuments controversy.

The piece, published this week, looks at when and why we memorialize people and movements with statues — and what happens when the culture rethinks those people or movements and peacefully removes or forcefully topples those monuments.

From the story:

Statues tend to rise and fall in tandem with political sentiment. In the U.S., Confederate statues were erected in far greater numbers during two eras in our history: the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights era, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out. The removal of statues, meanwhile, accelerated after the Charlottesville mayhem last month and following Dylann Roof’s massacre of African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Eli Pousson, director of preservation at the non-profit Baltimore Heritage, says it took Heather Heyer’s tragic death to get monuments taken down in Baltimore. “In 2015, [we] sent a list of recommendations for what to do with the Confederate monuments to the prior mayor and she ignored it,” he says. “The current mayor held a review of the issue in March and April but did not act until after the Charlottesville violence.”

In post-war Germany, statues were taken down quickly, Slate noted, as Germany’s collective tail-between-its-legs attitude was pervasive. A 1946 federal law mandated the destruction of “any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia,” that glorified the German military. While a federal law on the matter in the U.S. would eliminate the years of litigation that are sure to follow statue removals here, our states’ rights are far stronger here—and politically unassailable—and such a law could easily violate the first amendment.

“Since the end of the war, Germans have worked hard to reckon with the evils of Nazism and the Holocaust in a way that I don’t think the United States has ever truly done with the horrors of slavery or the systematic persecution of indigenous peoples,” says Sarah Beetham, a professor of Art History at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who writes about sculpture and the Civil War. “But if we are going to move. . .away from our current polarization, we would do well to follow Germany’s lead and confront our entire past.”

 

The whole piece is worth your time as we head toward the Sept. 22 meeting of the North Carolina Historical Commission, at which North Carolina’s Confederate monument issue will be discussed.

 

3 Comments


  1. Richard Keefe

    September 12, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    If it’s a question of removing statues from public spaces, simply put the question on ballot referenda and allow LOCAL VOTERS to decide the issue. It doesn’t come any more Democratic than that. If Charlottesville’s city managers had put the question of renaming the parks and removing the statues on a ballot, instead of acting unilaterally, it would have removed much of the impetus from the neo-Nazis claims. Given the electoral demographics of Charlottesville, the outcome would most likely have been the same, without feeding the haters.

    If the original sin is slavery, then say so and take it all the way. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and even Ulysses Grant owned slaves. The Virginian presidents had far more to do with codifying chattel slavery in the US than Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. If slavery is the sin then purge ALL of the slaveholders. Equivocations about “flawed Founding Fathers” is BS. There were no “good” slave owners. No excuses. Own it all or walk away.

  2. R R Williams

    September 13, 2017 at 2:12 am

    The sin of the people honored by the Confederate statues isn’t that they owned slaves—it’s that they were traitors to the United States of America. Their claim to fame is that they led a fight to divide our country. There should not be any statues honoring them. Robert E Lee did not want there to be any statues honoring himself or the Confederacy. Certainly there are people in our history who have done great things to unify our country. Statues honoring those people would be inspiring to all people, not just mourners of the Lost Cause.

    Perhaps we could also put up statues to honor abstract ideas that embody the American spirit–such as coming together in times of crisis…

  3. Richard Keefe

    September 13, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    They were “traitors”??? Who were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?? They were born British subjects yet they “revolted” against their legal rulers. Who signed the Declaration of Independence? All of them owed allegiance to the British Crown. The only difference between Washington and Lee is that Washington won his traitorous revolt. He certainly owned more slaves than Lee.

    Lee was offered the command of the forces protecting Washington, DC, and he turned it down. If YOU were rebelling against your government would YOU turn down such a priceless opportunity? Lee could have handed Lincoln and his entire cabinet over to Confederate forces without firing a shot.

    If Lee’s crime was defending slavery you have to trace it right to the root. There is no “Founding Fathers” double standard. Owning humans is criminal, no matter who does it.

    “Traitors…” Please.

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