The United States has long been a critic of governments using propaganda to subtle influence and controls its citizens. The US also goes out of there way to declare themselves a place where people from all cultures can feel safe and respected. One thing they are relatively silent on is the symbols of hate they have allowed to plague their nation for so long. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are over 1500 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces in over 31 states(Little, 2017). Why would a government allow for these symbols of hate that represent a secessionist government remain in places that exert influence over the public? The answer is quite simple, there is a large portion of the US population that identifies with these statues that perpetuate white supremacist ideals.
There are many people who would argue that these monuments represent history, to destroy them would be like erasing history. They claim that these statues were created to mourn soldiers who lost their lives; Mark Elliot, a historian at the University of North Carolina, says the real reason they were created was to glorify leaders and teach people the values of the South(Little, 2017 ). This is why many of the statues built are leaders of Confederate movements rather than fallen soldiers. These monuments were created to keep the Lost Cause alive. They were also used to intimidate black people during a time where they were starting to gain the same freedoms as whites. Jane Dailey, a historian from the University of Chicago, argued the same point. She believes that these monuments were not erected as monuments to the past, but towards a white supremacist future(Parks, 2017). When you look at when these monuments were created and some of the people portrayed in this art you can clearly see that was the intention.
Most of the monuments erected were done so from the 1890s-1950s. This also happens to coincide with the period of Jim Crow segregation. These laws were used for the disenfranchisement of African-Americans during a time of huge civil rights tension. The biggest increase in statue building was from the 1900s-20s, which coincides with the second revival of the KKK(Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, 2019). Many people who defend these statues claim these timelines are just coincidence; but when you look at what the Confederacy stood for, it’s obvious this was more than fate. The most important idea the Confederates stood for was that black people were simply unequal to whites. Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, said, “Foundation are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man,” when founding the Confederacy. How can an organization founded on the idea of white supremacy have their symbols displayed for anything else but that purpose(Parks, 2017 )? It is simply untrue that these monuments of the Confederacy are supposed to represent fallen soldiers and tell history. This fact is glaringly obvious when you look at the statue of Nathan Bedford in Memphis. The man memorialized in this monument was responsible for the massacre of African-American prisoners of war from the Union side, yet he was still honored memorialized instead of being treated like the war criminal he was. Another Confederate monument started in 1910 and finished in the ’60s, Stone Mountain in Georgia has no purpose other to glorify the leaders that preached these ideals. This can be seen by the strong presence of the KKK in this area of Georgia, as well as the Neo-Nazi tourists and white supremacists that feel comfortable visiting this monument. The feelings and ideas that these monuments are what’s truly criminal.
These monuments were meant to create fear in the African-American population. Another reason they were created was to make white supremacists feel that they were still in control of the South, despite slavery being gone. Monuments like these were allowed to stand for so long because although the North fought to free the slaves, most whites in the United States were not comfortable with black people being considered equal to them. By sponsoring installations like this into key areas for justice and community, whites were able to still feel like they were in control of society. Unchecked aggression like this is why they were able to get away with segregation, predatory housing, entrapping black people in a cycle of poverty, and overall the oppression of African-Americans today. We see in recent events the type of response they invoke in people on both sides of the issues. On one hand, people have realized the atrocity these monuments represent and have tried to get rid of them. However, white supremacists have fought to keep what they consider important history. Many Neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups have used these monuments as rallying points and meeting places. There have even been clashes with Black Lives Matter protest resulting in violence.
Everything surrounding these statues points to their representation of white supremacy. The installment and protection of these monuments by the US government represents a criminal type of oppression and exclusion of African-Americans. Besides being morally criminal, black people have also been injured for trying to remove these monuments or even for simply protesting their existence. The use of art pieces for the oppression of another group of people is truly criminal and was deemed as such after the fall of Nazi Germany.
Little, B. (2017, August 17). How The US Got So Many Confederate Monuments. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/how-the-u-s-got-so-many-confederate-monuments
Parks, M. (2017, August 20). Confederate Statues Were Built To Further A \’White Supremacist Future\’. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544266880/confederate-statues-were-built-to-further-a-white-supremacist-future
Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy. (2019, February 01). Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.splcenter.org/20190201/whose-heritage-public-symbols-confederacy