The Debate over Confederate Monuments

By Airla Fan
Published on January 23rd, 2021

Before you look at this article and dismiss it as another oversaturated heap of commentary and revengeful promotion of the BLM cause, I can assure you that, like most political debates, this piece looks at both sides and contains inclusivity of all stakeholders. It is, in my opinion, impossible to really gain an objective insight into the current issue regarding confederate monuments, but when caught up in the whirlwind of this momentous movement, it is important to consider all arguments and encourage a sense of diversity and mingling in politics, not division.

With the BLM movement gathering steam day after day, the debate of whether confederate monuments should stay or go is more complicated than ever before. Monuments rise up as political statements, prompting symbolic action and beliefs with its underlying legacy and history. But they also topple over and get taken down as political statements. Does racism and fragmentation in the US really justify the eradication of these monuments and symbols?

To a lot of people, monuments act as symbols and destroying them is the most tangible and visible way to diminish and wipe away the history that lies beneath it. As protests against xenophobia and police violence spread across the US, the destruction of Confederate monuments became opportunities for protestors to demonstrate their anger towards the constitution and protest against the societal figures and structures that allow discrimination to happen incessantly until this day. Their anger at being denied the human and civil rights they deserve echoed across the country with the toppling of over 138 confederate symbols since 2015 (which is the year when a white supremacist killed nine black congregants at a Church in Charleston). "The conversation has never really died," Lecia Brooks, an outreach director from the Southern Poverty Law Centre in Alabama said, after seeing the resurgence of protests three years after Charlottesville.

These monuments of confederate figures and soldiers act as a constant reminder of the atrocious acts and violence against African-Americans throughout US history. They commemorate figures like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee who fought for disunion and also glorify figures like John C. Calhoun who protected the institution of slavery and nullification as a state's right. By all means, none of these men should be commemorated in any form, and it's easy to denounce these men for their heinous acts and xenophobia. But these are the easy cases, what if it isn’t that simple? Were all the monuments taken down really a symbol and confirmation of a road to a more progressive society?

Some may disagree. Hans Christian Heg, for example, was an anti-slavery activist and abolitionist whose statue was destructed and taken down in Madison, Wisconsin. His monument embodied Madison's progressive idealism and liberalism, yet ironically got decapitated and thrown into the lake by protestors. Another prominent abolitionist and anti-slavery activist at the time, Robert Gould Shaw, was taken down by protestors as well in Boston last month. His legacy as the first commander of the all-black regiments during the civil war and his advocacy for equal pay and treatment among his troops are all but forgotten and devalued by the removal of his monument. Ulysses Grant, who by all means succeeded more in defeating the confederacy than any other general was taken down in San Francisco just a month ago. This man who devoted his life and blood to taking down the Ku Klux Klan and promoting a more perfect union is reduced to shambles with the destruction of his monument.

These are the easy cases. These are figures who were taken down despite their humanitarian efforts to achieve a more perfect union. But now it really gets complicated. What about cases against George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Yes, they were slave owners, with Jefferson owning more than 600 slaves throughout his life. But they both knew slavery was wrong and openly expressed their desire to revoke this practice. Washington even freed all his slaves towards the end of his life and was the only founding father to do so. In one's sincere opinion, their fault truly laid in being creatures of their time, and it is impossible, to imagine the possibility of a perfect union and constitution without them.

What about Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt? They were both evident racists with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 enacted during Jackson's presidency and the Immigration act of 1907 enacted during Roosevelt's presidency. These discriminatory acts of legislation are undoubtedly shameful pieces of American history. But the underlying irony in all of this is the fact that Roosevelt broke up monopolies, promoted conservation and ignited a scandal by inviting Booker T. Washington to the White House, all in service of a more perfect union. Likewise, Jackson advocated for egalitarianism and battled with Calhoun over nullification as a state's right. These progressive acts and advancements seem to identify him as more of a political progenitor of Bernie Sanders than Donald Trump. So, if it's alright to topple these progressive leaders off their pedestals, is Barack Obama, for instance, safe from being antagonized with the same fate in the future?

Monuments and statues carved in stone and metal perhaps act as a reminder that the figures carved from them aren't made of them. Eradicating these monuments can act as powerful symbols and statements, but antagonizing national figures due to limitations of their time shouldn't make them less heroic. It is idiotic to consume the idea that we must preserve the worst figures to remember and memorialize the best ones. But it is also foolish to topple the best ones because of who they were at their worst. As a progressive nation and society, aiming for equality and inclusivity among everything else, it is important to make intelligent distinctions between the figures who strived for a more perfect union and the ones who did the opposite.


Works Cited

Ortiz, Aimee, and Johnny Diaz. "George Floyd Protests Reignite Debate Over Confederate Statues." New York Times, 6 June 2020,

Stephens, Bret. "After the Statues Fall." NYT Opinion, 26 June 2020,

White, Richard. "This Monument to White Supremacy Hides in Plain Sight." NYT Opinion, 23 June 2020,

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