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We Should Not Honor A Racist Past

Joshua Riebel ’20, Guest Writer

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The Civil War was fought over slavery. It sounds obvious, but in a day and age where our nation fails to condemn traitors that tore it apart just over 150 years ago, perhaps nothing can be taken for granted. While it is naive at best to simply make a plea to end hatred and bigotry of all kinds, it is more pragmatic to examine the legacy left behind by the Confederacy, and why it is best left in the past.

Confederate statues have been in the news a lot lately, as every time a town decides that it is about time to stop honoring their racist, treacherous ancestors, small pockets of dissidents rise to make their voice heard and protest. For many, they feel that these statues and monuments commemorate their heritage, and that by eliminating them, they and their ancestors will fade into obscurity. This argument, while oozing with pathos is also unconvincing and misleading. First, many of the confederate soldiers like Robert E. Lee specifically said that they did not want to be honored nor commemorated for betraying their country of origin. In fact, the only reason Lee actually agreed to become the general of the Confederacy was due to his home state of Virginia seceding; otherwise, he would have almost certainly accepted the generalship the Union offered him. His loyalty was split, but he ultimately decided to defend his home, even though he did not share many of the Confederates’ beliefs. In an 1858 New York Times article, he revealed his intention to free his slaves within five years, and to his wife wrote “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country” (James Fortin, 2017). He did not necessarily believe in racial equality, but he did believe that slavery was categorically wrong. Second, if these statues were constructed to honor southern pride and heritage, then why were the majority of the statues either constructed shortly after reconstruction, or during the Civil Rights Movement? It is too conveniently timed to pretend these statues were constructed for any reason besides hatred and bigotry. These two eras marked time of great discontent in the south, as well as major improvements in the lives of African-Americans (freedom and the vote respectively). However, the most condemning argument is this idea of heritage, and why one heritage should be celebrated over all others.

Why do racists, slave-owners, and traitors to our nation deserve this kind of respect and honor that comes with immortalization in the form of a statue? If all heritages matter equally, then we should all gather in the streets and demand more statues and monuments to the Native Americans who bravely combatted English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and American invaders who wanted to seize their land. Let us celebrate the millions who were slaughtered through disease warfare. Let us celebrate by building a gigantic edifice to honor the legend of Crazy Horse.

Hatred and bigotry are not going to go away like a cold, and may never completely disappear; however, that does not that things cannot change. We can decide what is acceptable in our culture and what is not. We do not have to be accepting of a viewpoint which is not only offensive, but inaccurate at the core. Free speech is crucial for our democracy to function; however, that does not mean all speech. In the words of Robert E. Lee, it would be wise to “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “We Should Not Honor A Racist Past”

  1. Matthew Tenney on November 30th, 2017 8:19 pm

    Starting in December 1860, seven states seceded from the Union. By the time Lincoln took office, almost all of the federal installations in those states had been evacuated with no casualties. Those states just wanted to depart the union in peace. Lincoln had a choice. He could evacuate Fort Sumter and there would be no war or he could make South Carolina evict the garrison which he could then make into a rallying cry so that the north would eagerly agree to invade the south. Instead of evacuating the Fort, Lincoln sent supplies so the standoff could continue thus provoking the Confederates to open fire. But even so, there were no casualties due to the Confederate fire.
    Slavery was a major contributing factor to secession but it was Lincoln who turned secession into all out war.
    Lincoln’s objective was simply to force those states back into the Union by whatever means necessary. even if he had to kill almost a million people (which is exactly what he did). Ending slavery was not one of his objectives.

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We Should Not Honor A Racist Past