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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Burying history under its monuments: the new confederacy

The NYT article on the monuments to the Confederacy by Gary Shapiro tries to be thoughtful, but it struggles with a larger thoughtlessness. While Shapiro is right that confederate monuments have a historical value, he seems oddly oblivious to that history. These monuments were raised by the same people who either participated in or condoned lynching and terror. Slavery does not exhaust our inventory of American evils. To say that Jim Crow was "nasty" shows at the least an inadequate conception of how Jim Crow came about. To quote Bob Marley, a better authority here, 'half that story has never been told." These monuments were part of a process, and that process existed not in ante-bellum times - which seems to be Shapiro's main concern - but in the bloody post-bellum times that allowed the white establishment to, in essence, reverse the verdict of the Civil War. In other words, these are not just monuments to the Civil War past, they are emblems of the Jim Crow present. Since Shapiro shapes his essay around Richmond, let's contrast the monuments to Lee and Davis with, for instance, this map of Virginia lynchings. It is poetically pertinent that as marble statues of Confederate generals were being raised in the capital of the state, a more human, struggling monument was being raised in the state's countryside - with tar and feathers, with castration, with hanging. And so far as I know, noon of those advocates for "preserving" our history have ever advocated for preserving this history. Every confederate monument is an instrument to get us to forget the history being enacted around its base: lynching, mass imprisonment, mass disenfranchisement, wholesale economic fraud.

Louisiana, whose representative recently shed tears for the good old confederate days and who voted to provide more aid to their marble concrete monuments of racists than they provide to sick living human beings, could do with hundreds of monuments to the brave band of African Americans and white reconstructionists who were assassinated or killed in pograms, such as that which occurred in Colfax. How many people have heard of Colfax? Its obscurity is a measure of the success of the raisers of the Confederate monuments, who wanted less to memorialize history than to bury it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colfax_massacre