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Backed into a corner: Where does discussion on monuments end?

Where does it end, I’ve been asked on social media, by friends critical of my position on Confederate monuments, which is, take ‘em down, now.

Confederate monumentsNot exactly channeling President Trump, though unwittingly doing so, they press: what about Washington, Jefferson, FDR?

Washington owned slaved. Jefferson owned slaves, and had children by one. FDR was responsible for the internment of 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

We honor them, and countless others with checkered pasts.

Do we take all the statues down, basically, is the issue.

I am loathe to admit this, but they’ve got me backed into a corner.

My stance is full of nuance. I back the removal of statues on public grounds to men who took up arms against our country.

Robert E. Lee, distinguished gentleman before the Civil War, after the Civil War, led Confederate troops in battle against the Union during the Civil War, gone.

Stonewall Jackson: valiant in battle for the Lost Cause. Gone.

Jefferson Davis: political leader of the Confederacy. Sorry.

Generic statues honoring unnamed Confederate soldiers: no doubt brave in battle, but did so in an effort that would have led to the dissolution of our Union. Moving on.

Which gets us to George Washington. A slaveholder. Reprehensible. Why have a monument to a slaveholder?

Because he led our armies during the American Revolution. Plain and simple.

This is not even debatable. There is no United States of America without Gen. George Washington.

And he owned slaves. Can’t write that out of the history books. Can’t whitewash it away.

Thomas Jefferson. Wrote the Declaration of Independence, not even arguably the most important document ever written.

Also a slaveholder. Had children by one of his slaves. Unforgiveable.

And yet: there is no United States of America without Thomas Jefferson. He made the moral case for revolution.

FDR. The internment. There is nothing to say to justify. Nothing. It was a horrible idea executed poorly.

Nothing was gained. It was a pound of flesh taken from people who had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.

And yet: FDR led our country out of the Depression and through World War II. He inherited a country on the brink of collapse, and left his successors the world’s lone superpower.

Warts abound. Name the historical figure, and they are there. Booker T. Washington, to critics, was a sellout unwilling to fight segregation. Martin Luther King Jr.’s critics took a similar tact, and the more virulent added questions about personal conduct that even his closest associates conceded were rooted in fact.

It’s to the point where if we decide that we can only honor historical figures who are totally and fully above any reproach, well, who we do have to left to honor?

Where I leave it is, we memorialize those who played a role in our progress as a nation.

Washington, for example. There is no United States of America without a George Washington. His military and political prowess defined our early years as a nation.

Jefferson. His words on paper set the moral tone for our early advancement, and his term as president saw our country expand from sea to shining sea.

FDR saw us through two of our more tumultuous times, the Depression and World War II.

Booker T. Washington was a key civil rights leader of the early 20th century, whose efforts, judged by the mores of his time, advanced the cause of African-Americans manifold.

MLK, quite obviously, is a seminal figure in American history, along the lines of the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

The reason to omit the likes of Lee, Jackson and Davis is not to marginalize and demonize white men who held slaves or acquiesced in the perpetuation of the institution.

To use that as the standard would be to attempt to deny the role that anyone played in the development of our nation for its first century.

And, OK, the Civil War didn’t resolve the matter. Jim Crow persisted for another century, and a half-century since its legislative demise, it’s hard to argue that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow isn’t still weighing upon our country and its peoples.

But we continue to make progress, not fast enough, but there are two alternatives: status quo or taking steps back.

The reason I advocate taking down monuments to Southern Civil War “heroes” is that they are only heroes to those who take issue with our progress as a nation.

Those monuments went up in waves, starting in the 1880s, as a means of reminding freed slaves and their descendants that the war for their freedom wasn’t really over, and as long as they stand, it isn’t.

Take ‘em down, now, and grind ‘em down and confine their remains to the dustbin of history.

Their cause was and is a Lost Cause, and the fact that they took up arms against the rest of us to defend their cause is deserving of moral reprobation, not celebration.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, they moved the ball down the field, toward the goal of a better nation.

We need to continue to celebrate their efforts, along with those of great Americans like Booker T., MLK, Susan B. and many more.

Column by Chris Graham



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