There are those who tout the statues, symbols and rhetoric of The Confederacy as “heritage not hate.” They vehemently reject any suggestion that those symbolic representations in the historic “making of the United States of America” canonize America’s most heinous and disgusting historic chapters. In their minds, those confederate icons have nothing at all to do with white supremacy, vitriolic race hatred, or celebration of systemic and institutional oppression. All of which are in absolute contradiction to the very platitudes upon which America declares her independence, freedom and justice for ALL. However, there are many others who take issue with the “heritage not hate” argument and challenge its veracity as a genuine argument. Instead they use it as an example of a lopsided misrepresentation of our nation’s historic legacy and the shared struggle to make our nation accountable to the vision of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness we all share as citizens of a free nation.
In the past several weeks, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, Louisiana oversaw the dismantling of four major markers of confederate history and removed them from the public square. Landrieu acted on what he believed to be the moral authority to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. The Mayor told the citizens of New Orleans that the statues were erected as symbols of white supremacy and the city can now right that wrong for future generations.
“I knew taking down these monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like.” —-Mayor Mitchell Landrieu
The mayor of New Orleans stood on moral authority to recognize the truth of history and begin to redress its numerous atrocities and disparities as a means to elevate his city and its citizens. History is never to be forgotten but rather remembered within its proper context. Memorials to hatred and oppression need to be contained within an appropriate memorial context, like a museum, where those who want to see those relics of the past can go to visit them as a part of the study of history. They no longer need to be supported and maintained by tax paying citizens or given places of honor along major boulevards, avenues, or as a part of public governmental buildings and institutional grounds.
New Orleans was a major trading port of institutional Chattel Slavery, as was Richmond, Virginia. In the census of 1860, the largest percentages of enslaved Africans were in the following states: South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Virginia. The enslaved population was as high as 47% of the population in South Carolina. The secession of the southern states, the initiation of the Civil War and the establishment of The Confederacy under the cover of the Confederate flag, was to maintain “States Rights.” Each state should have the right to hold human beings in bondage, to use as they see fit according to their “rights” as property owners and citizens of the individual states under their respective governments.
What then should we do Richmonders? Do we have the unction to put this argument forward for legitimate discussion? Silence is no longer an option when others have taken steps forward into the 21st century and recognized that where we are now, as a nation, is decidedly different than where we have been. Is there the unquestionable courage to interrogate what is heritage and what is hate? Who gets to make the ultimate decision? And, finally, is there the audacity to DO something if the decision is to dismantle these symbols and put them where they belong? —- In a museum.