May 24, 2017

Hate or history? Debating the value of Confederate monuments in the US

What should be done with the many memorials dedicated to controversial people in US history?

History is said to be written by the victors. But in the United States, there’s a peculiar veneration for the losers. Schools, highways, parks – there’s no shortage of public spaces named in honour of people who have ended up on the wrong side of history. Although many Americans recognise the immorality of historic colonialists, slave owners, and anti-abolitionists, some say these spaces should be preserved as reminders of the country's darker moments. Others view these structures as emblems of white supremacy, saying they glorify people who repressed the rights of others or fought in a bloody civil war to defend an indefensible institution. For them, such memorials only add insult to years of systemic injury.

After the murders of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, anti-discrimination activists across the US have stepped up their efforts to remove symbols they say represent historic and institutionalised racism. In New Orleans, Louisiana, city officials recently removed four statues linked to the pro-slavery period, including one of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, whose legacy lives on via numerous places that bear his name.

Figures like General Lee are important players, despite being on the wrong side of history. But what should be done with the monuments and memorials remembering the individuals who built their reputations on the backs of African Americans and Native Americans? Should they be removed to respect the legacy of those trampled under their boots, or should they be repurposed so that future generations can have an accurate view of the more troublesome episodes in their nation’s past?

On this episode, we’ll explore the historical and social value of such monuments, and whether they should be maintained, torn down, or replaced. Join us at 19:30 GMT.

Joining The Stream:

Terri Coleman @TFSColeman
New Orleans resident

Kevin Levin @KevinLevin

Jonathan Zimmerman
Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania

Malcolm Suber @takeemdownnahhh
Organiser, Take Em Down Nola


What do you think? Leave your comments below.