Re-imagining Confederate Memorials

“An opportunity to keep the Confederate statues where they stand, repurposing what they stand for.”

In Trump’s rally speech in Phoenix, he disparaged the efforts to remove Confederate memorials like the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage,” he said, bemoaning the threat to “our shared customs, traditions and values.” The fact that many of the monuments in question were erected as a passive aggressive racist response to either to cheer the enactment of so-called Jim Crow laws in the 1910s and 1920’s or decry the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s (1) is conveniently ignored.

There’s no middle ground. Robert E. Lee’s statue is an icon of defiance for white supremacists. It’s a dark reminder to African Americans and civil rights supporters that racism is alive and well in the USA. One cannot modify the other’s view without a profound change in their philosophy.

But perhaps there is an opportunity to keep the Confederate statues where they stand, repurposing what they stand for. Imagine erecting additional figures alongside Lee and Stonewall Jackson to remind us of other moments in our history where Americans fought against civil rights or personal welfare.

This American rogue’s gallery would remind us of the ones who believed in something other than all of us being created equal. It might include such historical figures as these:

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Sir Matthew Hale (Source: Harvard.edu)

Sir Matthew Hale, 1609–1676. the English jurist who successfully argued that husbands could not be charged with raping their wives. He explained “a husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind to her husband which she cannot retract”. Hale wasn’t an American, but our state laws adopted his position until the mid-1960’s, when individual states started rethinking and redefining the crime of rape to include the possibility of spousal rape. The last states to agree were Oklahoma and North Carolina in 1993, once the marital exception was declared unconstitutional

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Josephine Jewell Doge (Source: cogpunksteamscribe.wordpress.com)

Josephine Jewell Dodge, 1855 –1928, the influential New York society matron who established the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage (NAOWS) in 1911. She was a prolific writer and free with her opinions against granting women voting rights “because our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability, and are such as none but ourselves can perform.”(3)

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Thomas Dartmouth Rice (source: Grandy, fineart America.com)

· Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808 –1860), known professionally as Daddy Rice, the actor considered the founder of American “minstrelry,” and the originator of the role of Jim Crow which he performed in blackface. Rice adapted and popularized a traditional slave song called “Jump Jim Crow,” depicting how his contemporaries viewed African-Americans and their culture. Because of Rice’s fame, the term Jim Crow became part of the regional vocabulary as a pejorative term for African Americans. From this, the laws of racial segregation became known as Jim Crow Laws.(4)

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Nathan Bedford Forrest (source: Associated Press)

Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821 –1877), from Chapel Hill, NC, a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. But he made his most substantial contribution to the cause after the war when he transformed the Klu Klux Klan from a southern men’s social club to a violent militia. As Grand Wizard in of the Klan in 1867, he launched a campaign of “midnight parades; ghost’ masquerades; and whipping and even ‘killing Negro voters and white Republicans, to scare blacks off voting and running for office.”(5)

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American child laborers circa 1898 (source: Lewis Hine, shorpy.com)

· W.C. Heath, president of the Cotton Manufacturers’ Association from 1899 to 1901, a period of our history in which children comprised 18% of the American industrial labor force.(6) He successfully argued that child laborers were essential to maintaining industry profits, insisting that if a minimum-age law passed specifying 14 as the minimum age, every mill in (North Carolina) would close. The opposition fought hard but didn’t gain a single vote, leaving 10–13 year olds spending up to 19 hours per day laboring in American factories.(7)

If we study our history it’s easy to find people who fought to subjugate Americans based on race or gender, and when we deliberately failed to protect our children or elders. The bad news is they continue to emerge. The good news is that we can remember the ones who came before and despite their power and platform, they were defeated. As a collection of cautionary tales, their stories are as important as our hard-won victories.

1. Southern Poverty Law Center

2. The History of the Pleas of the Crown (posthumously, 1736)

3. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition

4. Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange Career of Jim Crow

5. Tures, John A. (July 6, 2015), “General Nathan Bedford Forrest Versus the Ku Klux Klan”

6. http://www.history.com/topics/child-labor

7. Trattner, Crusade for the children; http://www2.needham.k12.ma.us/nhs/cur/Baker_00/2002_p7/ak_p7/childlabor.html

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