Four history professors held an informed discussion on Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the CoLab to analyze the removal of Confederate monuments. The historical context behind removing Confederate monuments and what the removals say about history were the main topics at the discussion.
Jim Leiker, Professor of History and Chair of History and Political Science, said the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church, which killed nine people, contributes to why the removal of Confederate monuments is a controversial issue right now.
“I think what probably made this more relevant recently was the mass shooting at the black church in Charleston, when a young white man committed a number of murders on the African-American community,” Leiker said. “That seems to have lent some urgency to the movement. I also think that various factors in the political climate are empowering groups to come forward in a more aggressive way than they have before.”
Jay Antle, Professor of History and Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability, said the recent protests in Charlottesville,Va. influenced the debate of whether or not to remove Confederate monuments as well.
“Right now, the discussion about removing civil war era monuments is because of the events that happened in Charlottesville, Va.,” Antle said. “Theoretically, that whole protest was supposed to be about stopping the removal of a memorial to Robert E. Lee, but it really ended up being much more about a promotion of white supremacy given the association of white supremacy and hatred with these monuments, the question comes up periodically, about whether or not it’s ethical to keep these monuments in place.”
The removal of Confederate monuments would not erase history, but rather make a statement instead. Vincent Clark, Professor of History, said removing Confederate monuments sends a message that we will not tolerate the messages and values the monument holds.
“I don’t think it will have an affect on history,” Clark said. “Instead, I think it will say to people that we do not honor the struggle to preserve slavery and to continue to suppress African-Americans and take away their rights,” Clark said.
The question of whether history would be forgotten if monuments and memorials were removed was a concern for those who opposed the removals. Leiker said we will always have a variety of ways to learn and remember the past.
“I don’t think it would change the way we remember history one little bit,” Leiker said. “History is learned from books, museums, classes, documentaries … it’s not like these memorials are the only means by which we understand the past. I don’t accept the argument that removing them is equated with the loss of heritage.”
Towards the end of the presentation the discussion shifted to how we represent indigenous people, or American Indians, in our culture from monuments to mascots. One of the most common ways we misrepresent American Indians is the celebration of Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is portrayed as this moment in history when people came together in thankfulness, which of course is not what happened,” said Tai Edwards, Associate Professor of History. “The fact that those individuals are characterized in that way is grossly denying the facts that happened both then and subsequently. That holiday celebrates something, but that something is not a historical fact.”
We also misrepresent American Indians through school and professional sports team mascots. Edwards said the mascots always depict a personality that no longer represents American Indians.
“Why is it that most Americans know more about Indian mascots than Indian people,” Edwards said. “Most people, the Indian that they’ve met in their life is a mascot not an actual Native person. [Mascots] are 19th century, horseback riding men on the plains, which is convenient because the images of native people in our society are all in the past. All of these mascots are based on supposed war characteristics, it’s not a native farmer, it’s a native warrior.”
Brennah Welch, student, said she enjoyed the different viewpoints and perspectives each panelist had. Welch said she agrees with removing Confederate monuments, but also believes that is a decision for her local community to agree on.
“I thought it was really significant how they brought up the memorials represent the time that they were created because a lot of people don’t really understand that,” Welch said. “I think [monument removals] are a community decision and agreement. I think it should be the local [community] deciding whether a monument is removed. Personally, I don’t see the point of having them. I would say remove them but it’s a local decision.”