In the aftermath of the events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, a national debate has emerged regarding whether or not statues of Civil War “heroes” should be taken down or allowed to remain.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade led with the question:
I want to talk about where your book starts, and that’s our constitution […] As an African-American woman, do you see yourself in this constitution?
Do you think that, when we look at nine of our first twelve presidents as slave owners, should we start taking their statues down and say, we’re embarrassed by you?
No. I am a firm believer in ‘keep your history before you.’ So I don’t actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners. I want us to have to look at those names, and realize what they did, and be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history.
To be clear, the current day White Supremacist movement is not about the removal of statues of presidents who served prior to the Civil War (nobody has even suggested doing that). It is about taking down statues of men who fought to preserve slavery. It is about statues of men like Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision stating that slaves “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Quite frankly, I have my doubts whether the members of these hate groups have much of a grasp on history prior to the Civil War. They certainly will not let go of the fact that the Confederacy was on the losing side of that conflict.
But the overarching debate about the statues of Civil War generals and those who actively promoted slavery and the so-called superiority of the white race has stirred up a lot of controversy. I am not suggesting that I have the answer. I, like everyone else, have an OPINION.
Here it is:
I believe that the statues of those who tried to dismantle this country have no place in the public sphere. I do not believe they should be displayed in front of courthouses, other public buildings, schools, or in parks. That is not to say I think they should be ground into dust, because as Secretary Rice pointed out, this is part of our history: an ugly part, but it is woven into the fabric of our society and should never be forgotten.
I believe those statues should be installed in museums devoted to telling the story of who we were, how far we have come and how much farther we need to go. I believe all school children should be required to tour those museums to learn about what transpired and the damage it did – and is still doing – to our country. Only by facing the past can we proceed into the future. The best way to combat hate and misinformation is education.
Racism in this country stayed underground for a while, but re-emerged with the election of our first black president. We all remember the racist memes and hateful words hurled at our first family. Anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-immigrant fury, coupled with birther nonsense propelled Donald Trump’s campaign. The complacency of the American voter, who thought a man like that could never actually win, put him and a bunch of white supremacists in the White House, and we are all now paying the price. If there is one thing Charlottesville has taught us, it is that we must be ever vigilant and heed the lessons of our history.
If we erect statues in front of our public institutions, then those statues would better serve us if they reflected our struggles towards our better selves. Those statues should celebrate the diversity of those of all races, as well as all genders, who have made meaningful contributions to our country: people like Frederick Douglass (orator, statesman, writer, and abolitionist), Garret A. Morgan (gas masks for fireman, among his other inventions), Hedy Lamarr (she was MUCH more than a gorgeous actress – you can thank her for your bluetooth), and Native American code talkers. There are so many more with exciting stories to tell who have enriched our history and our nation.
Erasing history only invites a repeat. In the words of George Santayana: Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.