Confederate statues belong in museums

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 19, 2015

On Thursday the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to remove Confederate statues from various places in the city and move them to either a museum or a Civil War park.
As one who is deeply interested in Southern history, I think this is a good move.
Most (if not all) Southern civic monuments to the Lost Cause were erected in the last two decades of the 19th century or in the first couple of decades in the 20th century, years after Reconstruction. The statues served as large, public reminders that although the former slaves were free, they were not freed easily or willingly. In addition, the statues, often placed near courthouses, were reminders of a romanticized Southern antebellum past. As C. Vann Woodward makes clear in his definitive history, “The Origins of the New South,” the presence of these statutes in public places was intended to show publicly that the racism of the past would be a central and defining characteristic of the new era.
I am deeply interested in these monuments and in this history. Civil War monuments are staples of the courthouse square in cities that have them and their explicit political origins should not be dismissed or ignored. It is precisely because we cannot ignore them and cannot dismiss them, that we must preserve them, albeit in Civil War parks or museums.
It is no disrespect to move a distasteful historical monument. Relocation does not slight history, for history can’t be slighted. Whatever our forbearers did, whatever they believed in and fought for, it will always be there, in our history books. And it is useful for us to be able to remember those former values.
But public spaces are not history books. Public spaces should and must reflect the values of the people who occupy those spaces in the present. Therefore, as values change, so must those spaces. Public spaces are not spaces for relics and discarded beliefs. Those things belong in museums.

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