Civics Of Statues

By November 30, 2017 No Comments




Statues of historical people in public places recently have triggered energetic reactions. A few statuaries made of metal or stone in the USA’s parks have become rallying points for groups good and bad. No group seems to have much interest in the history of any statue; rather, discredited ideas and racially inflammatory speech are aired and confronted. Is the tumult which is caused by those few pro- and anti-groups a reflection of: a) the historical figure; b) the times that person lived in; c) the times of today; d) the groups today that demonstrate energetically and fatally? Something else?

The statues that recently caused the tumult and tragedy are Civil War southerners, military men, Confederates who fought to preserve their lifestyle of enslavement and privilege. Instead of using the current narrative of political views, a new method of discussion is helpful for these upheavals, a new method of prosecution to judgment using rules of argument. Perhaps a language of rigorous analytical method can help deflate passions and help focus on the statues or, at least, civic responsibility. The Charlottesville riot is a useful measure.

Is a particular statue a soldier’s Civil War monument? Is the statue a Jim Crow monument? Is this distinction real? When was the statue erected? In what context? Can arguments be drafted to help decide whether the statue should be maintained or demolished or removed? What are the definitions for “war monuments”? What does “Jim Crow” mean?

Jim Crow laws and practices began after the Civil War. Wikipedia summaries this odious environment as follows:

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. Enacted by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures in the late 19th century after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforced until 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities in the states of the former Confederate States of America, starting in 1896 with a “separate but equal” status for African Americans in railroad cars. Public education essentially had been segregated since its establishment in most of the South after the Civil War. This principle was extended to public facilities and transportation, including segregated cars on interstate trains and, later, buses. Facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior and underfunded compared to those which were then available to European Americans; sometimes they did not exist at all. This body of law institutionalized a number of economic, educational, and social disadvantages. De jure segregation existed mainly in the Southern states, while Northern segregation was generally de facto—patterns of housing segregation enforced by private covenants, bank lending practices, and job discrimination, including discriminatory labor union practices. “Jim Crow” was a pejorative expression meaning “Negro”.

Jim Crow laws—sometimes, as in Florida, part of state constitutions—mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. military was already segregated. President Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, initiated segregation of federal workplaces at the request of southern Cabinet members in 1913.

These Jim Crow laws revived principles of the 1865 and 1866 Black Codes, which had previously restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African Americans. Segregation of public (state-sponsored) schools was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. In some states it took years to implement this decision. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but years of action and court challenges have been needed to unravel the many means of institutional discrimination.


Will time change perception of the Civil War statues? Certainly. Will time cure the hurt? Maybe and/or eventually. Visit Europe or Asia or any place that has culture going back a couple of thousand years or more. Old monuments mostly are called ruins as an indication of their physical state. USA statues are not old enough to have been ravaged merely by time. Any passions associated with ruins have ebbed and disappeared long after any blood therefrom ebbed and disappeared.

Many old monuments attract tourists. Academic discussions abound on these old monuments’ meanings.  If in a state of ruin, when we today look at the old monument and separately read related academic discussions, we understand the limitations of such discussions. More obvious is that time has eroded the appearance of the monument and time has obscured and ambiguated the meaning. As time is the inescapable constant, the same will happen here.

Does education help this discussion? What countries are educated? Public education was mandated and funded in the USA during the period of Ben Franklin. By contrast, many other countries as recently as post-WWII reconstruction enacted national education mandates which slowly became ordinary, socially acceptable laws meant to enlighten their population. The hoped-for results then and now were and are that education saves taxpayer money because smarter citizens take advantage of economic benefits, marketplace factors, sensible health lifestyles and more ordinary socially responsible behavior and thereby lessen demands on funds for health and welfare. USA populations have been the beneficiaries of public education for longer; however, the results today are dubious compared with nations whose public education experiment has been much shorter. European and Asian countries have many ancient monuments, and the USA has none (ancient native monuments are not included in this statement because they arose before the USA and did not play a role in the experiment called the USA). European and Asian elected officials generally are smarter than USA counterparts in one particular manner – social responsibility. Are old statues and public education corelated factors? Causal? Did the Charlottesville riot fairly reflect the USA’s low appreciation of social responsibility? Was the riot due to low education or due to absence of ruins? Stating the question this way sounds supercilious and funny. Nevertheless, given absence of ruins, what is the education level of the individuals of any of the conflicting groups? Does measuring their education level help in the discussions herein? Sure, because shedding more light on the state of intelligence is one more useful metric for figuring out social issues and their protagonists.

Will it become even more important to preserve these statues for future observers? History teachers may instruct us that future generations will experience the past in a manner similar to the way we today experience it – incompletely. Roman ruins and documents and relics are plentiful. The ability today to abstract knowledge from these numerous preserved collections is excellent. Better, many edifices, mostly churches or buildings coopted by the Church, are still in ordinary use today. The comparison of daily use then and now are example of purposes and movements of people who work there now similarly to, say, the sixth century A.D., the dark ages, the Renaissance and more. For example, Santi XII Apostoli, a church multiplex in Rome dating from the sixth century is an example of a building still in use today for the same reasons and activities, mutatis mutandis, as were originally intended.

But statuary is different from buildings. The statue regularly is a man. The man may be positioned in a context, such as with a sword in hand or on horseback to identify him as a warrior or a book in hand to identify him as a teacher – these references are easy to understand. But what if he has a pig in hand? And what if this statue-with-pig is in Italy, or in Ireland, or what if this statue is 1000 years old or 3000 years old? Disambiguation of a 1000-year-old statue-with-pig is a worthwhile goal. Likewise, disambiguation of a recent Confederate statue is a worthwhile goal.

The Confederate statuary observed in the USA reflects the inflamed feelings of today. But today’s inflamed feelings are not the feelings of the time the statue was erected. If the statue was erected in the 1950s or 1960s, the feelings of that era motivated its erection. If the statue was erected in the 1860s or 1870s or 1880s, it’s purpose at that time reflects the feelings at that time of the civic body or segment of society that paid for and erected it. Let’s look at those people involved – Who were the people who decided to erect the statues? Were they members of an elected body? Who else was in that elected body? What were the arguments for and against the erection of the statue? Were they members of a private group? What purposes did the private group serve, what was its charter? What does the black population think about the monuments? How do they think about the Civil War compared to Jim Crow?

Before any statues were raised, the costs and logistics to put up statues certainly were discussed at town council meetings and social group gatherings. Anyone who has sat in a town council meeting or civic gathering knows these formal talks tend to bring out visceral feelings and strong opinions. Getting any proposal through a town council is rough. Maybe we can review minutes of meetings that record discussions by citizens and elected officials whether to raise a statue as a war memorial or as a Jim Crow symbol. Perhaps some minutes record patently racist hatred, or tolerance of it, or opposition to hatred, and promotion of civil responsibility, or perhaps appeasement. Perhaps an argument for perceived social good went something like this: if we put up statues it will “appease” Confederate Army residual hatred of which there was much. A little appeasement may go a long way so the whites who hate blacks will be less motivated, will seek less to kill black folk. How might have a town post-Civil War discouraged Confederate Army leftovers to reorganize and attempt to plan “guerilla” style reactions or battles?

Answers to these numerous questions may allow collective decisions on the place these monuments have today. After absorbing the brief history lesson above, postulate: If the monument is a Jim Crow monument, take it down, if it’s a soldier’s Civil War monument let it stay. Is this distinction real? If not, how can we make this distinction real? Should we?

Was the particular monument used as an oppressive message by whites to black populations that despite the end of the Civil War, despite the Emancipation Proclamation, despite other factors, that some were lesser citizens than others? White supremacists are a tiny fraction of the white population. The clear majority of whites oppose the views of the supremacists. Should these majority numbers carry the weight of influence? How can we identify white supremacists? The absence of social responsibility is one evident way, and poor education, and affiliation with crimes. When interviewed post Charlottesville riot, white supremacists demonstrated poor general understanding, poor language usage, and more attributes of impoverished intellect. A New York Times article profiled such a person from Ohio. And a Washington Post article profiled an Arizona man who blames college education for contributing to his perceived decline of social values. Do these two persons serve as examples of those easily led to white supremacy and rallying to a statue? In summary, a poor education coupled with generational training of hatred and bias makes statuary easy to use as a rallying point because it is easy to be told that a Confederate military statue is a symbol. Thus, in answer to the questions posed in paragraph first, above, a) is the least cause and d) is the greatest cause.

Other questions appear. Can we today make a distinction between slave owners and slave traders? Are military statues which originated from the history of the Civil War subject to the same reviews and criticisms as, say, military statues which originated from the destruction of native North American persons and cultures?

Can a collective understanding of any of this take shape? If so, then permit the collective understanding to rule. However, beware. When we think we arrived at a collective understanding, let’s agree on one more thing – somebody will sense wrongdoing, and some time era will not have all its ruins intact. If the erection of statues was subject to voting, was the black population provided the same access to voting as were whites? If not, then it’s easy – no statue now should stand. If so, then disambiguate the meaning of the statue. If the meaning is “Jim Crow”, then it must go.

Amusement parks standing in Kentucky distort history by showing exhibits of dinosaurs contemporaneous with the era of biblical Jesus. Maybe one garden for all Confederate statues could be financed by such amusement parks to keep in theme with their other historical distortions.





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