The growing movement to remove all evidence of the Confederacy in the South is nothing short of historical vandalism.
Vandals spray-painted the word "shame" onto the base of the Confederate monument in Norfolk, Virginia, over the weekend, the latest development in a debate over the place these monuments should hold in contemporary American society. Norfolk Police received a call early Monday morning informing them that the city's monument to the area's Confederate soldiers had been defaced.
The Norfolk Confederate monument, which sits on Main Street, was unveiled in 1907 to mark the last reunion of the area's surviving Confederate soldiers. As opposed to other monuments which feature historical figures like Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis, the Norfolk monument is adorned with a statue of a generic soldier. The vandalism came a week after protests in Charlottesville thrust the issue of Virginia's Confederate monuments into the national spotlight.
The Charlottesville City Council's 3-2 vote to remove the city's monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee has impassioned activists on both sides of the issue. Protesters led by white-nationalist Sean Spencer led a protest to save the monument and black community leaders participated in candlelit a counter-protest just hours later.
Monuments to Confederate leaders justifiably evoke anger and outrage within the African-American community. These symbols of the "old ways" of the Confederacy hearken to a time when blacks were not even considered people. The monuments were erected in the post-bellum and Jim Crow South, where even after receiving their personhood, African-Americans could not vote or fully enjoy society the way their white neighbors could.
Norfolk had this debate in 2015 when the city council decided against
removing the Confederate monument from Main Street. All three African-Americans on the council at the time opposed the monument's removal.
"You can't erase history just because you don't like it," explained Vice Mayor Angelia Williams Graves, who is an African-American. "It is what it is. To remove it would be a mistake."
This historical argument has been missing in a debate largely centered around allegations of racism and white-supremacy.
This monument in Norfolk was erected to memorialize the United Confederate Veterans' final reunion in Norfolk. The ceremony was attended by three Civil War veterans -- William D. Townsend, William J. Bush, and John Salling -- and an inscription was added to the base of the monument, honoring "Our Confederate Dead." It is over that inscription that this weekend's vandal chose to spray paint the word, "shame."
It is one thing to protest against Jefferson Davis Parkway or any of the five Virginia schools named after Robert E. Lee, but it is an entirely different matter to deface a monument honoring fallen countrymen in an effort to erase their place in history. We are who we are as a country because of our past, not in spite of it. Each and every scar in our collective experience tells the story of how we got here and where we are going.
No one today celebrates the Vietnam War. With the benefit of hindsight, most agree that it was a war we should not have fought. Walk the length of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall, and as you stop to read the names of the dead, you will notice your own reflection in the polished black granite. Even if you have no personal connection to any of the names etched into that wall, the memorial is a reminder that this war should not be studied as a snapshot in time, but rather as a variable that continues to affect your life to this day.
Of course, there are white-supremacists who revere every Confederate monument for the "old ways" they represent. The debate over whether to keep or remove these monuments has brought racists and white-supremacists out of the woodwork that we had hoped were long extinct. But the way to defeat these ideologies is not to strip the landscape of evidence the Civil War ever happened. No, the answer is to leave them exactly where they are.
Let these monuments serve as a testament to the darkest hour in American history. Let them be a reminder not only of our past, but how far we have come as a society since then and our shared commitment never to return. Let the inscription, "Our Confederate Dead," serve not as fanfare to the cause these men fought for, but to mourn the 620,000 American soldiers on both sides of the conflict who died at the hands of their brothers.
It is a "shame" that this country had to rip itself apart to recognize that the words "all men are created equal" apply to everyone. It is a "shame" that the hatred and bigotry so many people fought to eradicate still exists in our society today.
But it would also be a "shame" if the last monuments to this turbulent, yet determinative, part of American history were erased from the landscape to satisfy political correctness.