Confederate statues are scattered across the South, and to some Americans they are pieces of the nation’s history. To many, they are painful reminders of the tragic and horrendous scars of the past and, unfortunately, to others they are a source of inspiration around which to rally. However they are viewed, statues like the one of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia now represent an increasing political divide that has turned into violence. Blood has been shed around these men made of metal and cement.
The largest gathering of white supremacists in decades congregated in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12 to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The protest quickly turned violent, and then deadly when protesters clashed with counter protesters and 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove into a crowd of counter protesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville have further fueled the debate over Confederate statues, and some individuals are taking matters into their own hands. Protesters toppled a Confederate statue in North Carolina on Aug. 14. Cities across the nation are choosing to quietly remove dozens of statues, plaques and monuments—and they should.
Confederate flags and statues are not patriotic—in fact, they’re the opposite. The Confederacy did not see itself as part of the United States when it attempted to secede, and many of these statues were erected at a time of prevalent abuse of the civil rights movement. So, while some Southerners look at these monuments as a remembrance of identity and history, others see the face of a Confederate general and remember a nation that was built on the backs of enslaved and abused people who, after centuries of displacement, murder, torture, segregation and discrimination, can walk into a public park and see the face of a man who fought for their oppression. The loved ones of Heather Heyer undoubtedly see a symbol of hate that encouraged Fields to run a group of strangers down with his car. These statues are a step backward for a country that must move forward. They are monuments to the scars of history. But, they should not be destroyed.
The path to a better future is an understanding of history. The United States should not forget about men like Robert E. Lee, whose statue should be rehomed to a museum. If any individuals ignorant enough to spew hate choose to rally around it, maybe they’ll learn something. Maybe they’ll learn that Americans come in many ethnicities with many beliefs. Maybe they’ll find someone new to symbolize the “ideal nation.”
The United States is becoming an increasingly diverse country, and it is stronger because of it. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, fascists and the KKK rally around the statues of men who died 150 years ago because they are living in a dark past. This nation must move forward, but never forget.