I have had Confederate monuments on my mind since Memorial Day 2017. I have written several articles regarding my feelings, opinions and thoughts on this topic and have avoided posting anything in an effort to not be political. However, monuments, sculptures and art are rarely non-political. Can a monument ever NOT be political?
That is a tough question. The answer is multi-layered as there are a variety monuments – public, private, funereal, war, commemorative, memorial, historical. All are commissioned and erected for a variety of reasons, therefore, each are open to their own debate. But what about here in the Confederate Monument in Norfolk? Hampton Roads, Richmond, Charlottesville or the state as a whole?
Should monuments to the Confederacy be removed or context added? If removed, where should they be placed – cemetery or a museum. Perhaps they should be destroyed. Even this adds more debate and fervor as to who would even receive these objects?
Opponents to their removal suggest that removing these objects would forever change history and fears arise as to erasing southern history and southern cultural heritage.
Confederate history can never be removed or eradicated. The removal and / or relocation of the objects cannot and will not remove Confederate history from the south, America or even the world. Removal not only adds to Confederate history, but it also adds context to Virginia, Southern, American and even to world history. Just as the removal of the Berlin Wall did not remove the history of a divided Germany, it became both a literal and symbolic image for the reunification of Germany. As the removal of Confederate monuments, flags, imagery as well as the renaming of schools, streets, buildings and the community will become both literal and symbolic move forward to not only civil rights in America but also, a reunification of the north and south.
Even with the removal of these objects, counter-memorials need to be erected. Just as the counter-memorial worked in Germany in regards to provide context and memorialization to the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust, counter-memorials can become a reminder to future generations of lives lost when America was a slave holding and slave dependent economy and how America forever changed due to the Civil Rights Movement and to the lives lost in an effort to remove Jim Crow laws in the south.
Placed within the realms of a cemetery and museums make the best sense. This will allow visitors in a cemetery, to visually understand the toll in which war and its battles take upon families, communities and a country. Within the context and framework of a museum, curators and exhibit designers can help to educate why these objects were commissioned and the significance of space and place when they were within their original setting. Additionally, museums and educators will be able to create a space in which dialog can emerge regarding how and why individuals, groups and communities felt that these objects were desired and perhaps why they felt they were ‘needed’ decades after the Civil War ended. It can also lend to understand Jim Crow Laws and the need for the Civil Rights Movement and legislation.
Whether or not the objects are removed or if they remain, these monuments have all developed another layer of meaning beyond what they were initially designed for: they have not become a rallying cry for America to stand up against neo-Nazi’s and white supremacist’s.