Statues, monuments and memorialsJames Clingman / September 1, 2017
Many people are highly insulted by Confederate statues and monuments, and they want them taken down and/or destroyed. Since the latest movement in New Orleans to eliminate these relics that commemorate folks who tried to secede from the Union, resulting in a war that cost 700,000 lives, some Black people have been asking the questions: “Is it worth it?” “Should we be spending our time on other things?” “If all of the statues and monuments were eliminated tomorrow, would that help propel Black folks to a higher level in this country?”
Because I have never been involved in any protest or action to remove a statue, a flag, or a memorial that celebrates the Confederacy, I will not attempt to answer those questions for anyone who has or is engaged in protesting them. But, I will offer my personal take on the matter.
Unless I was terrified by these inanimate objects, or they made me physically sick when I saw them, I wouldn’t care about them at all. And so, I don’t care about them. But I remember how my mother hated, I mean hated, the “Lawn Jockeys” we would see when as we rode in our car. She always said if she had an ax she would stop and destroy the little Black faced man holding the horse’s ring. (Many stories abound on its origin and purpose, too numerous to recite in this article) I guess my mother grew up seeing those little statues in West Virginia and was told they denoted hatred for Black people.
Having lived in the south during my teenage years, I experienced separate public accommodations. I went from a majority White school in Ohio to an all-Black school in North Carolina, in 1960 no less, and I liked it; those two years were the best of my life at that time. I “grew-up” there and realized many positive things about Black people in the south when it came to ownership, education, and self-determination. I was inspired by what I saw in Black people—not discouraged.
I live in South Carolina now, and I see Confederate flags on trucks, hats, shirts and other paraphernalia—it doesn’t bother me a bit. As long as the person wearing that stuff leaves me and mine alone, I’m fine. I am not suggesting everyone be like me; I am just sharing my experience.
Practically speaking, Black folks could spend the better part of the next decade or two removing icons of the Confederacy, and upon our victory of doing so we would still be at the bottom of all economic indices in this nation. According to Five thirty-eight.com, “…The Southern Poverty Law Center began collecting data on public displays of the Confederacy throughout the United States…they found more than 1,500 places or things commemorating the Confederacy, including more than a hundred schools and more than 700 monuments. The SPLC’s list of symbols also includes street and county names, as well as parks, military bases and a broad range of other public works or spaces. The vast majority are located in states that once made up the Confederacy, though they extend north and west as well.”
All of those monuments and memorials, in addition to the personal relics owned by Confederate supporters, would occupy our time and energy for a very long time. Besides, to be diverted from the existential issues affecting Blacks would be hazardous to say the least. Sure we can multitask; we’ve always been good at that, but we must not abdicate our responsibility to achieve real power, socially, politically and economically. We must be more concerned and active around substance rather than symbolism.
For those who want to protest monuments, please consider Selma, Alabama, where in March of every year Black folks walk across a bridge named after a staunch racist. Where’s the call to change the name of the bridge from Edmund Pettus to, let’s say, the John R. Lewis Bridge, since he is the icon of the Selma march? As a matter of fact, why don’t Black folks just make the change themselves in that 80 percent majority Black city with a Black Mayor? Do you see the irony here?
Also consider the “monumental” problem that exists in the “Black Mecca,” Atlanta, Georgia. It’s called Stone Mountain and features Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. The carving is so large that a grown man can stand inside the ear of one of the horses and is the largest Confederate monument in the U.S. Pardon the pun, but folks in the “Atl” have their work cut out for them.
Klan Associates, William and Samuel Venable, bought the mountain in 1887 for $48,000 and granted permission to Helen Plane to create her vision of a Confederate memorial carved in stone. As I always say, “Ownership is key.”
Jim Clingman is founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.