Rewriting history won’t change it
In the present toxic political environment, it may be safer to write about abortion and guns than the statues of Confederate war heroes. However, every student of American history ought to be distressed by proposals to rewrite our past.
The issue of destroying Confederate statues was accentuated when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee and a person was killed in the melee.
President Donald Trump poured gas on the fire when he failed to promptly condemn the racists that made up the bulk of the protestors. This resulted in scorching criticism from most segments of society.
The Democrats were quick to condemn Trump and demanded removal of all Confederate symbols. Some are even proposing to remove the stone carvings of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis on Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta.
In the heat of the debate, the liberals and conservatives have become so obsessed with the politics of the issue that neither is concerned about the intellectual integrity of rewriting America history.
We now have a political litmus test that means if you support the statues you are automatically categorized as a conservative and if you oppose the statues you are a liberal. Since North Dakota does not have such statues, we should be able to approach the issue with a little objectivity rather than being swept into a wave of partisanship. .
First, we must acknowledge that slavery is a tragic stain on the history of a so-called “Christian” nation and that continued endorsement of the culture that nurtured slavery is reprehensible. Even so, after 175 years, we still have people in the South who have not accepted the outcome of the Civil War. Some of them marched in Charlottesville.
In fact, the carving on Stone Mountain was not completed until as recently as 1972, a last poke in the Union eye from the State of Georgia.
Those who favor destruction of Confederate symbols argue that we should not – we cannot – honor those who fought for the preservation of slavery with statues prominently displayed on hundreds of courthouse and statehouse lawns.
American society has come to agree about the evilness of the slave culture so there is little honor given to those who defended the system.
If we had accepted our responsibility to heal the wounds of slavery African-Americans could be more forgiving of the South and its statues. Blacks got a short-lived glory in the Reconstruction but were sold out in a political deal between the Democrats and Republicans in the 1876 election dispute and the Army left the South to the colonial culture.
This was followed by servitude as sharecroppers, oppressive Jim Crow legislation, intimidation and denial of civil rights for another 150 years.
In the light of history, African-Americans have a right to demand erasure of all semblance of the Confederacy in American society. However, the record of oppression has been written across the South and the elimination of all remembrance of it will not change history.
History has proven that the statues now represent the losers. Sharecropping is gone; Jim Crow laws repealed; intimidation outlawed and civil rights restored. So maybe it’s time to leave the nostalgic with their memories and move on.
Besides, President Trump has a point when he wonders where this revision of history will end. Today, it is Confederate statues; tomorrow it could be monuments for slaveholders like Washington and Jefferson.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.