Time to look past monuments of the past to create better future

July 8, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

When my father was stationed in Maxwell Field in Montgomery, AL in 1962. I was in the third grade. As was my parents’ habit, my brother and I were taken to museums and other historical sites.

One of those was at the State Capitol building where I saw a bronze star mounted in one of the steps. It was on this location that Jefferson Davis was given the oath of office to be the president of the Confederacy. Since the end of the Civil War I was told every Alabama governor was given that oath standing on the same spot.

What came to dawn on me was the huge difference in perception. The Civil War was still being fought. Fast forward to 2020 and, as we can see, some people are still fighting it.

History may not be everyone’s favorite subject in school but it is vital to understand our life today.

It’s been a habit for centuries for people to erect statues and monuments to help preserve history, but frequently it’s a version of history that advances a political or social agenda.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (the SPLC), the majority of the statues honoring the heroes of the Confederacy were put up not just after the war, but also between 1890 and 1950. This time corresponds with the implementation of Jim Crow laws designed to keep the black population from reaching social and political equality. It is also the time the Ku Klux Klan had its greatest influence and prominence.

Mark Elliott, a history professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. He told the SPLC, “All of those monuments were there to teach values to people. That’s why they put them in the city squares. That’s why they put them in front of state buildings.”

And the values were and remain toxic.

Not to over-emphasize the meaning of the monuments, but they celebrate the history of a group of states that left the union in order to preserve an economic system that was built on the idea of slave labor.

Allow me to repeat: slave labor. There was no noble concept behind the Confederacy. The grand gestures and hospitality of the “Old South” was all based on the degradation of human beings.

Is that a message that needs to remain today?

Now before you get all cozy with some high and mighty feeling that we in the north are better, think again. We do have a history of racial hatred and it’s still very real.

No, we don’t have statues dedicated to racists of the Confederacy, but you should ask yourself about some of the statues we do have.

I’m sure I will get hate mail by saying this, but Columbus may be a fairly common subject as an image of the pride of Italian-Americans but he is a poor choice. Take a moment to read up on Columbus and you realize that honoring him is offensive.

I don’t advocate vandalism, but I do suggest thinking about what a statue of Columbus really means, especially in this day and age. Just as I think we should substitute Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the heritage of indigenous people.

Let me irritate more people: Why is there a stature of Miles Morgan in front of Springfield City Hall? A prominent early settler, Morgan was known as an Indian fighter and a hero of the King Phillips War in 1675. This statue was erected in 1882.

I’ve often thought it odd there is not memorial to William Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, who preferred a peaceful cooperative approach with the native people.

It’s time to look to the past to help us build a better future for all Americans. Yes, progress is being made, but there is much more to do.

Share this: