June 20, 2020 9:35:02 PM
As an architectural historian and preservationist raised in Mississippi, I am frequently asked my opinion regarding monuments to the Confederacy. "I don't want to erase history," people say, "so what do you think we should do about Confederate monuments?" My answer? Take them down. Unequivocally. Remove them from town squares, parks, and venerated civic buildings. They will not be missed. "But why not just add new signage that recontextualizes the monuments?" Nope. Unacceptable.
I was once on "Team Recontextualize." I thought that by providing the appropriate context -- many of these monuments we erected in the early 20th century as a method of solidifying white supremacist ideology nationwide -- the dark history of these statues could be mitigated with a simple plaque about "Lost Cause" propaganda. I was wrong. This line of thinking omits a crucial factor: the negative impact these monuments to white supremacy could have on African Americans today. On the topic of Confederate monuments, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked people to consider how they would explain them to a young African American girl. He said, "Can you look into that young girl's eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?"
The only answer is no.
Last week, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted on a motion to relocate the Confederate monument that stands in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse. Given the bias against African Americans in the United States justice system, the placement of this monument is particularly sinister. Harry Sanders, President of the Board of Supervisors and Supervisor for District 1, dismissed desires to relocate the monument and said, "In my opinion, they were slaves...they didn't have to go out and earn any money, they didn't have to do anything...they became dependent, and that dependency is still there." While his words are abhorrent, how can we be shocked by Sanders' comments when a monument topped with a figure evocative of a hooded Klansman presides over the courthouse?
We can't. The monument's inscription honors men who fought to defend "principles of right" like the subjugation of African Americans. Confederate monuments created Harry Sanders. Persistent glorification of the Confederacy through these monuments allows for white supremacist ideology like Sanders' to survive today. Complicity in the preservation of this message in the name of "heritage" allows for racism to fester and grow in Mississippi. To be blunt, this "heritage" honors traitors to the United States who perpetuated the enslavement of African American people. There is no question. Mississippi's secession from the Union clearly states: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world."
This is not something to be celebrated. The Confederacy should be an embarrassment to Mississippi, a place I love with all my heart. This difficult part of our history must be confronted, not heroized. To move forward, these monuments must be taken down. I am not advocating for the destruction of these statues. They are important artifacts of American history and should be relocated. But this is another topic for another time -- we have to defeat the last remnants of the Confederacy first.
Don't even get me started on that godforsaken flag.
Anna Marcum is an Architectural Historian and Preservationist. She was raised in Starkville, where her parents still live. Anna received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University and Master of Preservation Studies from
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