Report from Louisiana: Revisionist History and Confederate Monuments

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The fight to preserve American History has now moved to Baltimore with the latest attack coming from the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.  Their recommendation is to move an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson which depicts the two men right before the 1863 battle of Chancellorsville; another statue up for removal is of Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

The Commission has elected to retain the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Confederate Women’s Monument.

Cities across the South have been battling this issue on both public and private property for some time now and it is never without controversy. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been trying to rid the city of its Confederate monuments for two years without much success – so far.  The case has been tied up in the courts and is coming up for a federal court of appeals hearing on September 28; this upcoming date has renewed the controversy and the Take Em Down NOLA activist group is threatening to take the monuments down themselves with ropes.  Vandalism on the New Orleans monuments is a constant (although it wasn’t as bad until Landrieu started this campaign).

In Baltimore, the Special Commission has suggested adding signs to the monuments that present a new historical narrative “in today’s context.”  The Maryland Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has concerns about revisionist text and believes that the historical context should be accurate.  Who will write that text?

Add to all this monument controversy the new effort by the National Parks Service to create revisionist history of the Reconstruction period – again, an incredibly painful and inglorious time in our nation’s history.  The NPS has already

“…published a handbook for rangers and historians to ensure that “discredited legends” (like neo-Confederate claims that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery) don’t “stand in place of historical fact.”

And finally, consider the recent decision by the Tennessee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who reluctantly accepted a deal from Vanderbilt University to rename Confederate Memorial Hall on their campus:

The final terms of that deal were announced Monday after anonymous donors gave $1.2 million toward that purpose. Despite the payout, the organization said it was “disappointed that an institution such as Vanderbilt University would attempt to whitewash, sanitize and rewrite American history.” University leaders, including Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, have said the word is being removed because of symbolic ties with racism and slavery that are painful for Vanderbilt’s increasingly diverse community.

It goes on and on and where will it end?  What is the ultimate goal here?  What will we have achieved once the word “confederate” is erased from our national consciousness?  Will racism and prejudice be eradicated once all the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are gone?

Racism and prejudice are learned behaviors.  They do not come from blocks of stone or from words carved into the name of a building.

When a nation attempts to rewrite its history only bad things will follow.

In the Baltimore study, Fitz Brundage, chairman of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has said, “’Why would you have monuments to Lee and Jackson in Baltimore?” Mr. Brundage asked, calling the two men traitors to the U.S.”

I can only imagine what he says in his history classes.

And why in the world are we re-fighting the Civil War anyway?  Are we blaming all this on Dylann Roof?

The whole thing makes me sad and makes me wish Shelby Foote was still alive who once said this about the Confederate battle flag:

I can’t really argue with the people’s decision to remove it; if a constitutional body decides to remove the flag from a certain place, I can’t argue with that decision. I differ with it, but I can’t really argue with it because it’s a fait accompli. But to me the flag is a noble symbol, and I’m sorry to see it scorned. The confederacy stood for a great many things other than slavery. A dependent slavery is part of its right to decide what it wanted to do, but that was not what people fought the war about on either side. It was greatly contributory to starting the war and it was contributory to the North winning the war because of Lincoln’s definition as a war about slavery. It was not that in the first place or the last place. It was other things, many other things.

Much more than we can go into here; my point simply is that erasing it all changes nothing and only makes us ignorant and less informed.

Changing the name of a building changes nothing but the name of the building.

Only education can bring change and wisdom.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.