I’m a little skeptical about the educational value of statues, as most of the history I’ve learned has come in non-statue form. However, our Confederate statues are currently providing us a teachable moment.
An anonymous internet group recently issued a threat to remove one such statue in Mobile. In the news coverage, I saw a young black man describe what the symbolism of the statue meant to him. “The history of my people, it’s a history of terror.” We need to listen carefully to that young man, because he understands where the Civil War mythology departs from reality.
Confederate nostalgia buries the history that black Southerners bear on their shoulders. We need to teach our history better, and understand how these monuments were often placed well after the war as a declaration of white supremacy. For example, New Orleans’ recently removed “Battle of Liberty Place” was not a Civil War memorial at all, but a celebration of an 1874 white paramilitary insurgency against the integrated police force.
High school students should read the Confederate States’ declarations of secession. The documents make clear that the South was fighting to defend the institution of slavery, for all time. We should teach how 200,000 black Americans, many only recently emancipated, fought for their freedom in the U.S. Army and Navy.
Our Confederate monuments cast a distorting shadow over the memory of black patriots who fought against tyranny. In the interest of defending history, it’s time to replace our Confederate myths with real heroes.