Following a fatal protest in Charlottesville over the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee memorial, many cities throughout the United States are debating what to do with their own monuments. Officials in Maryland and New York chose to voluntarily remove their respective Confederate monuments , while honorary sights in Durham, North Carolina took actions into their own hands and tore down a statue dedicated in the memory of slain Confederate soldiers.
Meanwhile, officials in Boston opted to temporarily cover up a monument until consensus could be reached on how to handle the issue. The question of what to do with these monuments has spawned heated debate, with responses on both sides ranging from mere rhetoric to violent outbursts of protest.
Arguments on the left of the American political spectrum argue that the monuments perpetuate negative racial attitudes and further galvanize racist and hate groups in the American South and beyond. Matthew Dallek, an associate professor, George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, called the monuments a testament to what he sees as the Union’s “unfinished victory” in the Civil War.
He further asserted that the monuments were built by advocates of white supremacist ideology, rather than out of any desire to memorialize soldiers independent of the grim cause they supported. Unfortunately, Dallek’s sensible opinion has been championed by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other so-called “activist” groups with a history of violent action and their own questionable, racially motivated ideology.
Similarly, right-leaning commentators run the gamut from a sensible desire to preserve these historical sites to outright racist diatribes. President Trump mourned the loss of the monuments on Twitter, citing their importance in preserving an important part of the nation’s history, regardless of how painful that history may be. Public opinion seems to be behind the President, as a PBS poll revealed that 62 percent of respondents felt that the statues and monuments should stay in place.
Many on the right fear that removal of these sites could set a dangerous precedent against both free speech and the preservation of history. Again, the conservative position is weakened by the presence of extremist elements in their cause. The Charlottesville rally which launched the dialogue was attended by several open Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. These organizations are hardly representative of right-wing voters in the country, but their presence at rallies to preserve the monuments does raise valid questions. Ultimately, based on how monuments are being handled on a case-by-case basis, the final decision rests with individual states, which should hopefully enable local governments to better consider opinions from both sides.