defending chattel slavery, a grotesque remnant of human history. There’s nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise.
That said, I think there’s also no point in a struggle to tear down every half-forgotten Confederate memorial across the South. The war’s over and Jim Crow is gone; millions of Americans now living in the region have little interest in this aged feud. Besides, people have a right to their illusions.
As somebody who had no ancestors living in the United States at the time of the Civil War, maybe that’s easy for me to say. However, as an Irish-American who has always thought St. Patrick’s Day was nonsense (especially the vomiting in the gutters part), I’ve no sympathy with tribalized politics of any kind. Certain aspects of everybody’s past, their historical “identity” if you will, are best forgotten. Fighting over symbols gets you nowhere.
Writing in the Guardian, Lincoln biographer Sidney Blumenthal has a good idea. Instead of tearing monuments down, why not build new ones up?
“States and localities,” he suggests, “should establish commissions to build new monuments, statues and memorials, particularly across the South, to commemorate the heroes of the antislavery struggle, the unionists during the Civil War, advocates for Reconstruction, foes of Jim Crow and champions of the civil rights movement.”
An example of what he means can be found in Arkansas, where I live. Yes, the State Capitol grounds feature the traditional monument to Johnny Reb. But also a striking monument to the Little Rock Nine, a group sculpture depicting the brave African-American students who defied a segregationist mob to enter Little Rock Central High School under the protection of the 101st Airborne in September 1957 -- Arkansas’ most historically significant event of the 20th century.
People visit the memorial from far and near. To my knowledge, nobody finds it controversial.
Cemeteries, too, are appropriate places to memorialize the Union and Confederate dead. Meanwhile, if it’s history and heritage you want, visit Gettysburg, Vicksburg Memorial National Park, or Appomattox Courthouse, among many others. Carefully preserved Civil War battlefields are scattered across the South: real history, and solemn remembrance.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and coauthor of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eugenelyons2@ yahoo.com.