When it comes to topics including the Confederacy and slavery, America is a volatile volcano, ready to erupt with explosions of shock and controversy.
At the University of Missouri-Columbia (UMC) campus stands a statue of former president Thomas Jefferson. As one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, many continue to view Jefferson as an American hero; one of the brave men responsible for the construction of a prosperous America.
Despite Jefferson’s place in history, many UMC students have called to removing his statue off of the state campus. In particular, students were seen in Oct. 2015 placing sticky notes on the memorial, laced with words including “misogynist,” “rapist,” and “slave owner.” Columbia even has a school – Robert E. Lee Elementary – whose mere names commemorate Confederate generals, let alone national monuments and statues.
Confederate monuments have sparked much controversy throughout the United States. Proponents argue that the secessionist state’s history cannot simply be erased from the nation’s past. Senior Blaine Forshee, an ardent supporter of commemorating Confederate history, believes such memorials should be left alone. He said there was much more to the Confederacy than slaves, and that its place in the nation’s history should always be remembered in some fashion, whether it be through monuments or the Confederate flag itself.
“I think that Confederate history is a big part of American history. One of the main goals of the Constitution is for the individual states to hold the majority of the power in their own governments, and the Southern states felt like this was being taken away from them. The civil war that followed was the bloodiest fight America has ever seen,” Forshee said. “I don’t think flags and monuments should be taken down because I believe those are a representation of the thousands of Americans who died in the war on both sides.
[quote] “I don’t think flags and monuments should be taken down because I believe those are a representation of the thousands of Americans who died in the war on both sides.”[/quote]
For Forshee, the Confederacy is more than racism. Although he acknowledges that racism and oppression definitely held a place in Confederate life, he said completely ignoring its events would be a historical disservice to America today.
“I honestly see more than just racism when I look at the Confederacy,” Forshee said. “I think that’s something that’s hard for a lot of people when we see hate groups using the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, or because we’re taught in school that the South was willing to lose hundreds of thousands of men to keep their slaves. Most people aren’t willing to look at it a different way.”
A recent Reuters poll found a majority of polled Americans — 54 percent, to be exact — agreed that Confederate monuments should be preserved throughout the nation. While many Americans do believe the Confederacy was an important piece of the nation’s history, some object mainly on how commemorating it manifests in America. AP United States history teacher Kim Thielen-Metcalf explained that many characteristics of today’s Confederate monuments are unnecessarily offensive, such as their location and the intent behind creating them.
“There is no context for a statue in the middle of somewhere without any plaque, without any explanation. The general public doesn’t realize that those statues were put up long after the Civil War, for different reasons than to just say, ‘Hey, here’s a great guy!’ That’s the problem,” Thielen-Metcalf said. “I think there’s a place for Confederate history, but I think it needs context. You can’t just stick a statue in the middle of a park that you know is frequented by African-Americans. A lot of these statues were put in such places to intimidate, around the 1900s in an answer to Jim Crow. The statues were funded by people in city government, and there were no blacks in city government in the cities where these statues were put up, because of segregation.”
On another side of the debate stands junior Matthew Burns, a member of Young Democrats, RBRO and Student Council. While Burns supports remembering the time of the Civil War through monuments, he also believes the horrors and crimes that were the norm in Confederate society are just too terrible to forgive. Because of this belief, he views the removal of Confederate monuments as a way through which Americans are actively attempting to cleanse the dark parts of the nation’s history. While he recognizes why others might want to maintain Confederate symbols in order to continue learning from past mistakes, he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to do so, especially now.
“I think Confederate monuments could be important symbols of our history because we don’t want to necessarily forget our history, but I feel like it sort of neglects the negative parts of the history,” Burns said. “For example, with the statues, it shows many of the old Civil War generals as heroes, when that’s kinda against our American narrative that they should be moreso heroes than villains. And with the statues, the majority of the statues were built after the Civil War in the 1960s through now, so they aren’t even old relics, they’re built now to commemorate old Civil War generals.”
For Burns, the flag isn’t a symbol people should take pride in. He remembers seeing Confederate flags in rural areas of Wisconsin and Michigan flown to represent country lifestyles, but hopes the people that fly them don’t wish to revive slavery and the worst racism in American history, he said.
“The matter of the fact is that it doesn’t matter what the new meaning [the flag] is trying to take on is,” Burns said. “The Confederate Flag represents the discrimination and subjugation of an entire class of people based on the pigment of their skin.”
[quote]“The Confederate Flag represents the discrimination and subjugation of an entire class of people based on the pigment of their skin.”[/quote]
Many different opinions on the nature of the Confederacy leads to disagreement on what should be done about the Confederate movements. Metcalf agrees that if this issue isn’t resolved through dialogue and discussion, it could lead America down a path darker than most could imagine.
“We forget that our actions have effects on other people. And that is something we could improve. No, we should not forget Robert E. Lee, we should not forget what the people of Vicksburg had to endure when they were under siege by Ulysses S. Grant, but we should remember them in historical context,” Metcalf said. “We’re not erasing history by doing this. That is my opinion as a historian. The intent is not to erase history and act like none of this happened and that we’re just gonna move on happily; you need the entire story. The glorification of these people needs to be put in context. I think this is a discussion that we need to have. If we don’t have discussions, or stop having them at all, we’ll be in trouble.”