Memory  /  Comment

Confederate History is American History

New Orleans shouldn't have removed its Robert E. Lee statue.
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One suspects that if terrorism really resulted in the building of statues, the British would not presently be patrolling the streets of London with machine guns and armored vehicles. Combined with Landrieu’s complaint that no one had ever built a monument to a slave ship, one also suspects that the mayor has as little understanding of the purpose of statues as he does of the tactics of terrorism.

Had Southerners so admired it, they could presumably have somewhere erected a monument to slavery: a pair of shackles forged of iron, perhaps even a slave ship, as Landrieu now seems to be suggesting. If they had intended their statuary to be a symbol of terrorism “as much as burning a cross on someone’s lawn”, the simplest choice would have been to erect a statue of a burning cross. Indeed, had Southerners anywhere raised monuments to slavery or to the terrorism of the Klan, they would have been rightly condemned for doing so. Instead, in an odd twist, if any society seems poised to build monuments to slavery or memorials to the era of burning crosses, it would be ours, obsessed as we are with systems and institutions, with slavery and oppression.

But Southerners did not build monuments to slave ships any more than they built monuments to terrorism or slavery, for the same reason that professional basketball teams today dedicate statues to men like Bill Russell and Michael Jordan while no one cares to commemorate the three-point shot or erect monuments to the injustice of technical fouls. People build monuments to great men and heroic deeds, not to hierarchical social structures or demeaning systems of labor.