It’s Time to Remove Confederate Statues



Who knew Civil War statues would become the focal point of American debate in 2017?

As important as these conversations may be, it’s a bit painful to watch some on social media make sweeping generalizations and draw hasty conclusions about our nation’s history. Things are often far more complicated than they seem.

For example, President Ulysses S. Grant was an alcoholic and an epic failure in multiple business ventures. His administration succumbed to rampant corruption and scandal. And yet, his military leadership in the Civil War ultimately preserved our Republic. Was he a hero or a villain? I’m not sure.

Then there’s Thomas Jefferson. He fathered numerous children with one of his slaves and edited a version of the Bible that completely erased the miracles of Jesus. And yet, he was one of the most noteworthy and courageous architects of our nation’s founding. A hero? Mostly.

Every historical figure (other than Jesus) had moral failings and flaws. As a result, we must weigh their contributions in light of their shortcomings. Some are easily identified as historical heroes. Others are more difficult to discern. But a line must be drawn somewhere. Not all memorable figures of the past are worthy of adulation. Some deserve quite the opposite.

Consider our alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union during WWII. This partnership was absolutely crucial in defeating the Nazis. But we wouldn’t dare erect a statue in his honor at a National Park or name an elementary school after him. Stalin’s freedom squelching genocidal regime completely overshadowed any helpful alliance. Surely we can agree that the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, Caligula, and others fall firmly in the category of historical monsters.

In light of these complexities, we cannot forget the historical realities of our own Civil War. The Confederacy’s primary objective was to perpetuate one of the most brutal forms of human slavery in the history of the world. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens made this point abundantly clear when he said,

…its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

From my perspective, the men that risked their lives and reputations for that evil cause don’t deserve positions of honor and reverence in our cities. It’s time we quite literally remove them from their pedestals.

Interestingly, the Confederate figure at the center of last week’s abhorrent Charlottesville march would go even further than I’m willing to go. As white supremacists circled an equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee, they were obviously unaware of his thoughts on these issues. Forget statues. General Lee didn’t even want battlefields memorialized. In declining an invitation for a meeting to plan memorials at Gettysburg, he wrote,

I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.

Confederate statues shouldn’t be destroyed. I’m appalled that mobs of citizens would haphazardly topple and vandalize them. Instead, let’s place them where they belong. There’s plenty of room for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee in Civil War museum exhibits. Let their likenesses occupy battlefield memorials. But let us never forget the evil their cause sought to perpetuate. It’s time we intentionally remove them from places of honor in our society.


photo credit: beaucon Jackson and Lee via photopin (license)

4 Replies to “It’s Time to Remove Confederate Statues”

  1. Well said B… I was thinking the same thing but hadn’t had a chance to put the words down. How soon will it be before we’re called to take down statues of Martin Luther King jr. Because he was anti gay-marriage? I’m not a big fan of any graven images.

  2. I agree with the overall premise of your post, that the Confederacy and slavery was bad and needed to be destroyed.  You mention that the supporters of these evil causes should not be memorialized and that we should remove their statues from places of prominence in our cities and put them in museums.  Here’s where we differ in opinion.

    I fail to see how the meaning and appropriateness of the statue changes because of the venue in which it is displayed.  A museum is a building that contains and displays antiquities collected over time.  The museum is usually attended by people that appreciate what is on display.

    For example, I appreciate the history of aeronautics and love seeing planes in the air, on the ground, or in a building.  I see them flying through the sky every day. I have seen decommissioned planes sitting on pedestals in parks in cities all over the country.  I have also seen them on display at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.  Regardless of where I see the plane, I get the same reaction…excitement, amazement, and wonder…as it blows my mind how something as huge as a C5 cargo jet can get off the ground.  It is the object on display that causes the reaction, not the venue.

    You can put the Confederate Flag and these statues that were vandalized on display in a museum or in a park, it does not matter where, they will still elicit the same feelings from people.  Some will hate them, some will love them.  It just depends on the world view of the person observing the item.  Removing the item from view does not change the feeling.  That feeling is ingrained in the heart of the observer.  Until the observer’s heart is changed, there is not much that can be done.  ENOUGH of the hatred and bigotry that divides us.  Let’s hope and pray that we as a nation can unite, have a change of heart, and love one another as Christ loves us.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response! Really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

      In this case, I think context is key. For example, Germans don’t allow the display of Nazi symbols in public. But there are exceptions. When I was in Germany, I saw lots of Nazi symbols in one particular place: Dachau. The museum inside the concentration camp displayed these evil symbols in their appropriate context. They’re there as a reminder of the evil that took place, and that we cannot allow it to take place again.

      So in that context, we could most certainly display Confederate statues and flags in American museums. In the right context, they would serve as reminders of the pure evil of the cause.

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