Monuments to what?

National controversy has accompanied the decision in some communities to relocate Confederate monuments from public sites to other venues. One aspect of this controversy has gotten precious little attention: The history of the erection of these statues themselves. On this issue, the history of the monuments is more telling than the history of the Civil War.

There were very few Confederate statues erected right after the Civil War during the Reconstruction period (1965 to 1877). When three amendments were added to the Constitution that ended slavery, extended due process, equal protection and voting rights to all. A spike in the erection of Confederate statues on public property took place with the introduction of Jim Crow laws in the mid 1870’s. These laws codified the doctrine of “equal but separate segregation.” Other monuments appeared through the rest of the 19th century and up until about 1915. During this period, the KKK re-emerged and lynchings were frequent. Few statues were erected from 1920 until 1960. From 1960 to 1975 during at the height of the Civil Rights movement, many were erected yet again.

This timing is crucial to understanding the mindset of those who had these statues built and located on public space.. They were erected during periods when movements were afoot to subdue blacks or to make blacks second class citizens and to promote white supremacy. The statues were not intended as post war “somber reminders” of a bloody fratricidal war.

Most of the statues were explicitly created “to accompany organized and violent efforts to subdue blacks and maintain white supremacy in the South.”

The statues were of men who fought for a cause that held white people were superior to Blacks. Indeed, they believed in that cause so strongly that they fought in a war with over 600,000 fatalities to establish this immoral belief as the American way of life. Some like to think that these monuments were erected as symbols of some noble “heritage.’ The truth is many monuments were raised during periods of extreme racial violence when the bodies of black men were raised too.

Tim Mannello

Williamsport

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