The Corner

Culture

No, Don’t Remove All ‘Confederate Monuments’

In response to Dst

I must take exception to the sweeping nature of Rich Lowry’s column arguing in favor of removal of all “Confederate monuments” from everywhere but battlegrounds and cemeteries, even though I agree with many of his points and with a large portion of his ultimate goal. I do agree that a considerable number of such statuary have well-merited historical associations with the advocacy of Jim Crow laws and the like, and that they should be not in general public places but only in battlegrounds and cemeteries (if they are to remain standing anywhere at all).

Yet, as I wrote with regard to the statues in New Orleans that now have been removed, different monuments were erected under different circumstances and for different reasons — and not all of them should be considered under the same criteria. The famous statue there of Lee was erected in front of a cheering crowd that included numerous former union soldiers, under the aegis of a committee co-chaired by former Confederate General Beauregard — right around the time that Beauregard was publicly, and courageously, arguing for full integration of public spaces and schools and full rights of voting and citizenship for blacks. Obviously, the Lee statue was no monument, when erected, to white supremacy, but rather a celebration of Lee’s cause of post-war reconciliation. As for Beauregard, he also grew up in New Orleans and was a civic leader on numerous fronts both before and after the Civil War. His legacy of civil engineering, railroad oversight, and (in effect) invention of New Orleans’ famous streeetcar system is grounds enough to commemorate him completely apart from his role in the Civil War. For those reasons and others, I argued that the statues of Lee and Beauregard should remain in their iconic places even if the other two controversial statues were taken down.

I write this as one with a long record of fighting white supremacists and racists, as no great lover of the Confederacy, and as one who believes, and wrote, that the proper response to last weekend’s events in Charlottesville is to completely condemn the white supremacists without trying to assert (im)moral equivalence between them and the counter-protesters.

As many others also have written, this is one time where the “slippery slope” argument also is definitely applicable: I do quite seriously worry that even before all the Confederate monuments are down, the media will be giving credence to leftist calls to remove anything that honors “slave owners” named Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.

It was perfectly reasonable for the entrance to New Orleans’ City Park to feature a statue honoring P. G. T. Beauregard, especially one that was a particularly fine and celebrated piece of sculpture. In other cities, there may be other good reasons to retain statues of Confederate leaders in places where they have stood for decades — not because they are a symbol of white nationalism, but to insist that they are not such symbols and should not be hijacked by radicals on either side. Each memorial has its own context, place, and meaning, and those who cherish history and public understanding thereof should want each statue judged, and its fate determined, upon careful consideration thereof.

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