On statues, dignity and the definition of American hero

SUSAN K. SMITH | 9/4/2017, 8:19 a.m.
There have been a fair number of complaints about the furor over Confederate statues being scrutinized and taken down; a ...

Crazy Faith Ministries

There have been a fair number of complaints about the furor over Confederate statues being scrutinized and taken down; a common response, coming from the White House and others, is that removing the statues is tantamount to removing a valuable piece of American heritage. Coupled with that is the question which bespeaks of the lack of understanding about what is going on. “Should we remove the statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, too? They both owned slaved. Where does it stop?”

It is hard to believe that anyone could be so clueless about the difference between the Confederate statues and statues of America’s founding fathers. While it is true that 18 of our presidents owned slaves, the jab African Americans feel in looking at statues of Confederate “heroes” is that they fought against the United States. They committed treason, and they did it because they wanted to preserve slavery.

How anyone could not understand that is troubling.

Yes, it is troubling as well that 18 presidents owned slaves. It is troubling that many of them were racist; Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge are a few who come to mind. It is troubling that under the leadership of openly racist presidents, the fight for human and civil rights on the part of African Americans was all the more difficult. There was no comfort, no hope of help from the man in the White House with the presidents who could not escape the grip of White supremacy and its child, racism. In their own way, they fought to preserve the “Union,” though their idea of what the Union should be often did not include Black people as equal citizens under the law.

Yes, many White people have relatives who lost their lives to save the Confederacy; they fought against the United States of America. Fighting against one’s country is treason, sure and plain. And it cannot be forgotten that many of these statues were erected long after the Civil War as signs of a belief in White supremacy and an anger against federal laws that gave African Americans more rights. Some of them, like a plaque in Montgomery, Alabama, which is present at the bus stop where Rosa Parks boarded the bus she ultimately refused to leave, seem like a slap in the face.

In other words, these statues are monuments of resistance, not monuments of honor for fallen ancestors. These statues were erected as a sign to let Black people know that the spirit of the Confederacy would never be eliminated or erased, that in spite of the Union having won the Civil War, the spirit of the Confederacy and what it stood for would not be forgotten.

I asked a few friends of mine if there are statues of Hitler in Germany. There are none, they said. A statue of Hitler anywhere in Germany would say to children and relatives of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust that Germany does not care about what happen to their predecessors. It would say that Germany honors a demagogue, and Germany has not and will not do that.