On June 17, 2016, Dylan Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. Investigators revealed that Roof wanted to start a race war, and a photo of him holding a Confederate flag circulated. If you need any further proof that this war has begun, nay has been going on for some time, I give you Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people are already dead after yesterday’s events.
I visited nearby Fredericksburg just a year ago. I walked along her historic streets and toured the battlefield. I gazed over the National Cemetery where Confederate and Union dead lay buried. The sacredness of these places can be clearly felt. These places are important. They are worth remembering and preserving. But it is these places that are the battlefields in Roof’s race war. The removal of monuments in response to the Mother Emanuel murders had provoked intense responses from both sides of the debate with each side guilty of misrepresenting and/or willfully ignoring history. Did anyone seriously think you could just start tearing down monuments and no one would get upset?
The far left groups seek to remove the monuments in the name of decrying racism. This is an affront to many in the United States who see the monuments as something else with no racial connection. Rather than come together and agree to disagree, elected officials have decided to side with the small but vocal groups seeking to remove the monuments. Vandalism and damage has occurred to many monuments, including graffiti and the destruction of burial sites. At this date, dozens of Confederate monuments have been removed across the country, and names of buildings such as schools are being changed.
These fired shots have awakened several far right groups. These groups are responding by rallying around monuments that remain or are in danger, often times using racial and provocative actions. Appealing to the anger many have felt because of the removals, the far right groups filled a void that should have been filled by more moderate historical preservation societies. But alas, those groups, the historians, the ones with the most to lose, were mostly silent. When medical issues are debated by legislative bodies, medical associations often speak for or against. In this debate, the voice of the historian, the few times it was heard, has been drowned out by the mob.
As a historian I am shocked and appalled by the bastardization of history that is being conducted by the extreme groups represented in this “debate.” ANTIAF, BLM, KKK, Unite the Right, call them what you will, they are all the same to me. One type of hate is no better than the other. They have taken our history, the history of the people of the United States, and perverted it into something that, I fear, we may never get recover from. Our history is not pretty. It is not perfect. It includes ups and downs, successes and failures. It is a great example of the old adage “life is not fair.” There are heroes and villains and those who walk in between. Most importantly, United States history is NOT designed for people who need safe spaces.
There was always a chance for a better United States: freedom for slaves, the right to vote expanded to all, safe working conditions for laborers, civil protections in courts of law. These were not easy victories, it took a long struggle to get there, and the job will never be done. But that is what makes our history unique. While it is mostly populated by people whose names and lives will never be known outside their circle, every once in a while, a person risen above their station and leaves a mark for us to see. They propel us forward by their good and bad actions. Robert E. Lee led the Confederate armies and did not own a single slave. Ulysses S. Grant led the Union armies and owned several. Who was the better man? Whose monument is being removed? Who face on the $50.00 bill? It takes a brave person to study United States history. It takes a coward to ignore it.
The far left and far right groups do not speak for the vast majority of us, and yet they are being allowed to frame the debate. They have a right to speak, without question. But we have a choice as to whether or not we will listen, and that is how you silence them. The people of the United States, of all races, colors, beliefs, sexualities, religions (indeed whatever label society forces us to use) need to stand up and say enough is enough. If for no other reason than for the sake of Our History.