In August Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, conducted an interview on “Fox and Friends” about Confederate monuments and stated, “I hold the view that it’s important that we remember our past and build on the progress that we have made. What we have to walk away from is a desire by some to erase parts of our history just in the name of some contemporary political cause”(Wright). The discussion regarding Confederate monuments is at the forefront of public discourse, being ignited by the increase of white supremacist rallies and magnified by President Donald Trump’s refusal to outright condemn these supremacist groups; instead, he resorts to the idea “many sides” that are at fault. Pence believes that taking down Confederate monuments would be disastrous for our country as it erases a part of America’s history – a belief that is popular amongst supporters of these monuments. The conversation of the presence of Confederate statues has brought the United States’ cultural background to the forefront of political and social discussion and has entered into the world of academia. Scholars are now debating the ethics behind keeping such monuments, finding that the views held by Pence to be inaccurate. Examining this debate deeply, we find that there are three overarching subjects: the inaccuracy of history presented by these monuments, the arguments of whether or not the Civil War was fought over slavery, and the intent behind the construction of such monuments. By examining these arguments, there is a significant case for the removal of Confederate statues as they are filled with falsehoods. While supporters of Confederate monuments claim to preserve history, it is antithetical to their claim as Confederate monuments have created an alternative history that eliminates all consciousness of facts, distorting perceptions as a way to alter the past.
Pence states that taking down Confederate monuments “erase parts of our history” (Wright)/ This is by far the most common defense amongst those who want to maintain the status quo. However, this argument has proven to be false as not a single advocate for removing Confederate statues is in favor of erasing these men from history. In fact, these advocates want the Confederacy to be remembered. They want the public to know exactly what Southern generals did, believed, and fought for. As a result, advocates would naturally be in opposition to Confederate monuments as it distorts the truth of the Confederacy. Instead of these monuments accurately portraying the Confederacy, these statues are constructed in a way to make these Southern generals appear as patriotic Americans who fought to preserve their southern dignity.
In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has come to recognize the destructive nature of Confederate monuments. On May 23, 2017, Landrieu offered strong remarks (Video of Landrieu’s full speech) towards the New Orleans decision to finally rid itself of its last Confederate monument as he rebuked the legacy of the Confederacy and revolted against the idea that these monuments are a way to represent the past (Mitch Landrieu’s Speech). As he states:
The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause,” he said. “This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. (Mitch Landrieu’s Speech)
According to Landrieu, these monuments are used as a way to rewrite history, creating an alternative form of history that fabricates the intentions of the Confederacy.
Further extending Landrieu’s argument, Gabriel A. Reich, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, looked deeper into the distortion of history by public monuments (McNeil). Through his study, he found that people who are personally attached to the Confederacy, were willing to believe any falsehoods that would make the Confederacy appear to be more favorable. For example, the myth of black Confederate soldiers was mostly believed amongst people who had a close connection to the Confederacy (McNeil). This idea of there being “thousands” of black Confederate soldiers was not the case and has poisoned the minds of many to the point where two South Carolina lawmakers, State Representatives Bill Chumley and Mike Burns, want Confederate monuments commemorating black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy (Solis). If this resolution were to be passed, these confederate monuments would tell a blatant lie to the public and negatively influence the minds of many. A monument falsely depicting brave Confederate African American soldiers would create this idea that the Confederacy was void of racial dilemmas as blacks fought to preserve the South (Levin). The founders of the Confederacy would be shocked by this idea being perpetuated. While Burns and Chumley claim that they want to preserve history by building these monuments, they are actually distorting the view of the Confederacy and erasing the true nature of the Confederate past. Reich’s study shows that while these monuments are just static objects, they hold great power as it can distort one’s view of the past.
While the representation of these Confederate monuments has presented itself to be a problem as it alters perceptions of history, the context surrounding these monuments has also been wrongly transformed. When Pence expresses his support for Confederate monuments, he disregards the true intentions of the South — a common theme amongst most proponents of the Confederacy. Many of these proponents call for Confederate monuments to remain in place because the ideas of those who want the statues removed are steeped with misunderstanding of the Civil War and what the Confederacy represented. For example, Marshall DeRosa, Political Science professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and the author of The Enduring Relevance of Robert E. Lee: The Ideological Warfare Underpinning the American Civil War, states, “Anybody who takes a rational approach to this understands and can see that the war was not fought over slavery” (Loiaconi). DeRosa argues that the Civil War was primarily fought over states’ rights and the South only went against the Union to protect their sovereignty that was under attack from an ever-increasing powerful federal government. He further makes the argument that those offended by Confederate monuments should reconsider the idea that the Civil War was fought over the institution of slavery as he refers to that idea as “total and utter nonsense” (Loiaconi). He completely rejects the idea that slavery was the main reason behind the succession of the South and gives total credit to the idea of states’ rights as being the ultimate decision behind the formulation of the Confederacy.
On the other hand, James W. Loewen, Sociology professor at the University of Vermont, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, has refuted the position of DeRosa. In his article, “Five Myths about why the South seceded,” Loewen listed the theory of states’ rights as the reason for the Civil War as his top myth. Loewen states:
[Southern states] noted “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” and protested that Northern states had failed to “fulfill their constitutional obligations” by interfering with the return of fugitive slaves to bondage. Slavery, not states’ rights, birthed the Civil War. (Loewen)
Here, Loewen directly contradicts DeRosa’s claims with actual evidence, allowing us to see that the South was rampant in its support for slavery. While the Confederacy claimed to be a champion of states’ rights, their reason to succeed from the Union was based on the fact that the north would not comply with the country’s current slave laws. Thus, when DeRosa makes the claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, his beliefs, to use his own words, are “total and utter nonsense” (Loiaconi).
Furthermore, examining the intent of these monuments when they were constructed is imperative to our overall understanding of the debate surrounding Confederate statues. Proponents of monuments, such as Pence and DeRosa, argue that these figures at neutrally moral, meaning that they were not built with any malicious intent. However, there is a consensus amongst historians that many of these Confederate monuments were erected during the Civil Rights era — a time of great advancement and achievement for African Americans politically, socially and economically. Groups, such as Sons of the Confederacy, claim that these monuments have nothing to do with race, but, instead, everything to do with preserving southern culture (Confederate Statues). However, the facts do not deem their views to be accurate. As Jane Daily, history professor at the University of Chicago, states, “Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past, but were rather, erecting them toward a white supremacist future” (Confederate Statues). How did she come to this conclusion? The answer is found in a 2016 study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which found that there was a dramatic increase in the construction of Confederate monuments during the 1920s and 1960s — a time when the African American political power was at its pinnacle. As illustrated by
Figure 1, construction of monuments increased exponentially during the 1900s, especially during times of increasing Black movements, such as in the 1910s and 1960s (“Whose Heritage?”). James Grossman, the director of the American Historical Association, believes that these confederate monuments were used to send a message to the African American community — a message that sought to threaten and deter them from their successes. As Grossman states, “These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy. Why would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?” (Confederate Statues). Grossman saw this as a power move to intimidate the African American community. When Individuals, such as Pence and DeRosa claim that Confederate monuments are pure of racism, they are ignorant to the fact that these monuments were used as a scare tactic to suppress African Americans.
The presence of Confederate monuments has impacted all corners of America to a great extent. As someone who grew up in Florida, a state with strong ties to the Confederacy, I know many individuals, many whom are close friends, who are prideful of their southern heritage. When discussing the movement to rid our nation of these controversial statues, they often get emotional as they believe that their heritage and cultural background are under attack. Being an individual whose family comes from Grenada, a small Caribbean nation, I understand one’s desire to hold on to their heritage. I fully support my peers’ decision to be prideful in their background and I want their heritage to be known and remembered, which is why I am of the opinion that Confederate monuments should be removed. Confederate monuments tell a fake narrative of their past and they deserve to know the truth about their ancestors. By allowing all people to reckon with their past instead of covering it up with grandiose monuments, we can truly move forward as a nation in order to form a more perfect union.
Pledged: Daniel Thomas
 Phrase from the Declaration of Independence
“Confederate Statues Were Built To Further A ‘White Supremacist Future.’” NPR.Org, https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544266880/confederate-statues-were-built-to-further-a-white-supremacist-future. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Kuntzman, Gersh. “Americans Should Renounce Confederate Leaders the Same Way Germans Renounce Hitler.” NY Daily News,http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/u-s-confederate-leaders-germans-hitler-article-1.3420013. Accessed 5 Nov. 2017.
Levin, Kevin M. “The Myth of the Black Confederate Soldier.” The Daily Beast, 8 Aug. 2015. www.thedailybeast.com, https://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/08/the-myth-of-the-black-confederate-soldier.
Loewen, James W. “Five Myths about Why the South Seceded.” Washington Post, 26 Feb. 2011. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths-about-why-the-south-seceded/2011/01/03/ABHr6jD_story.html.
Loiaconi, Stephen. “Historians Disagree on Efforts to Remove, Rename Confederate Memorials.” WJLA, 5 June 2017, http://wjla.com/news/nation-world/historians-disagree-on-efforts-to-remove-rename-confederate-memorials.
McNeil, Brian. VCU History Education Professor: How Confederate Monuments and the ‘Lost Cause’ Narrative Distort Our Understanding of the Civil War. https://news.vcu.edu//article/VCU_history_education_professor_How_Confederate_monuments_and. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
“Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans.” The New York Times, 23 May 2017. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/opinion/mitch-landrieus-speech-transcript.html.
Solis, Marie. “Black Confederate Soldiers—who May Not Have Actually Existed—may Get South Carolina Monument.” Newsweek, 9 Oct. 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/south-carolina-reps-propose-statue-honoring-black-confederate-soldiers-680944.
“Whose Heritage?” Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/20160421/whose-heritage-public-symbols-confederacy. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.
Wright, David. “Pence: Confederate Monuments Help US ‘Remember Our History.’” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/22/politics/mike-pence-confederate-monuments/index.html. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017.