It’s about heritage not hate! That is the oft-used mantra of those who stand in opposition to the removal of monuments celebrating the heroes of the Civil War era. Although not all of these proponents claim a confederate heritage, many can be seen waving the confederate flag as a part of their protestation. Richmond’s tree-lined grassy mall called Monument Avenue with its historic mansions, town houses and numerous church buildings showcases some of the most venerated statues of the Confederacy, including Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Recently, the residents of Richmond have been grappling with interrogating exactly what these monuments stand for and how they affect the culture of inclusion, racial equality and equity that the city wants to promote in the 21st century. Some might say even opening a conversation about racial equality and historic legacy in Richmond, Virginia, is both groundbreaking and earth shattering given Richmond’s history as the Capital of the Confederacy. While others say, “it’s about time!”
What makes the “heritage not hate” rationale problematic is the time period in which these monuments were erected and the culture they were erected to promote. The Civil War was fought and won by the Union in 1861-1865. The result was the dissolution of the Confederate States, the abolition of slavery, the beginning of the Reconstruction Era, and the integrity of the United States territory preserved. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 legally freed the slaves but had little effect on the system of white supremacy that dominated the former Confederate states. Immediately following the Civil War, and the Emancipation, Jim Crow Laws were instituted effectively maintaining systemic and institutional racial discrimination and oppression all the way through the mid 1960s. The reign of terror promoted by white supremacists groups like the Ku Klux Klan began as early as the 1860s and flourished in the time period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. The Klan was murderous and trafficked in mass destruction, death and intimidation while promoting white supremacy, white nationalism, Nativism, Anti-immigration, Anti-communism, anti-Catholicism, Neo-Fascism and Neo-Nazism. The monuments to the heroes of the Confederacy were erected in this time period.
Much more than honoring the “heroes” of the former Confederacy, these monuments were erected to remind all citizens, especially the newly freed formerly enslaved blacks that whites were the dominate race and intended to continue in that vein regardless of the “War of Northern Aggression.” The white citizenry of the south would never surrender their place of supremacy over the black race. It is the struggle in which we have been engaged for generations. So… is the preservation argument really about history or hate?