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.