More Monuments, Not Less: Let Hope Spring from Tragedy

This is a brief addendum to my last piece, “It’s About Time ‘The South Rises Again,’” which appeared just hours before violence broke out in Charlottesville. Clashes between the “Unite the Right” hate group and counter-protestors left three dead, many injured, and all of America shaken. It has been a tough day few days.

Yet, from this tragedy, I see much to be hopeful about. Perhaps they have become cliché, but Lincoln’s words still ring true: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” At a moment when our country is so divided, we can feel heartened by seeing that so many have come together to condemn and mourn what happened. This includes most southerners. This includes me. The “Unite the Right” protestors are a disgrace to humanity, to America, to the south, and even to the man on the statue they claimed to be protecting. These cowards are the “hate.” I’ll be damned if I left them be representative of southern culture. We must protect our “heritage” from them.

WHAT IF LINCOLN HAD LIVED?

I hope that this moment of unity in our country can become more than fleeting moment of agreement, but can become just the start to a mindset of cooperation and mutual understanding that will unite America. We can only speculate, but I believe had Lincoln not been assassinated, he would have been able to achieve a much more reconciliation and healing in our country. I am no Lincoln, but I hope to offer a way forward that I think is in the spirit of Lincoln.

Suggestions have already been made to remove more memorials of Confederate veterans. I understand why. But this is a particularly divisive proposition for many southerners. The brief moment of unity will be lost if this route is aggressively pursued at this time. Similarly, doing nothing will leave others infuriated. We thus have the following situation. If the monuments go, many southerners feel they have been wronged. If they don’t go, many others feel they have been wronged. But perhaps there is another solution — a Lincolnesque compromise.

MORE MONUMENTS

In addition to calls for the removal of more Confederate memorials, it has been suggested that a statue of the woman who was killed in Charlottesville this weekend, a counter-protestor named Heather Heyer, replace the Lee statue that was at the center of all of these events. I think this is the wrong decision. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Heyer and her family and friends who are mourning her loss, and I fully support a memorial for her. Instead, what I suggest is that rather than tearing down all of the Confederate memorials, we add to them. In my last piece, I encourage southerners to face their past with the stoical attitude that Lee would have done. That past includes the tragic story of slavery and the heroic struggle of African Americans after the end of slavery. We need to build monuments that tell those stories next to the Confederate monuments to tell a more complete version of our history. One that reminds of our past mistakes, but that reminds us of hope for the future.

This won’t be easy. Many on both sides will be unsatisfied. But, a continued anger that fuels an unwillingness to compromise won’t make for a better future, nor will it change the past. We have to resist doing the easy thing, the thing that satisfies our anger, in order to make stronger America and a better future. As we all know, nothing worth doing is easy.

Finally, I suggest we build more memorials that show young children of different races playing together. Racism is an idea. It has to be learned. And it is children who have not yet learned these ideas that best remind us of this. It never occurs to children to not love everyone equally. Let these monument be symbol of a unifying love that eradicates these evil ideas. Let these monuments be a symbol of a time where all people of future generations will all be childlike in their confusion of why one person would ever hate another based on race. Let these monuments be a symbol of America’s flawed past, but her relentless pursuit for self-improvement. And for southerners, let this be a moment where we show our best side, where we “rise again.”