Summary thoughts on Confederate monuments as I move on from this

Yesterday I unexpectedly received a job offer and this morning I accepted. You may or may not hear about it here. The immediate upshot for this space is that everything I’m currently working on has to come to a dead stop as I transition to new tasks. That’s too bad. I had wanted to continue my discussion on interpreting Confederate monuments and flags, and get into the myriad historical and logistical complexities of doing so by examining the monument here in Hendersonville. I had planned to explore the monument’s history more, and to talk through the creation of an interpretive plan that considers audience surveys, current usage patterns, situational contexts, educational resources, potential community collaborations, and specific ideas for programming based on such a study. To supplement that, I’ve been poking around some primary sources on Hendersonville in the Civil War era to bolster some interpretive claims that might, to be charitable, be contrary to views the local historical establishment holds.

Oh, well. Since I’m signing off on this topic for now, I’m going to offer a revised version of a comment that I left on Kevin Levin’s blog that summarizes parts of my current thinking on all this. (Please forgive this being citation-free.)

This arose out of a continued discussion going around the blogs about vandalism of Confederate monument by #BlackLivesMatter activists.

I’d suggest that monument “vandalism” might not be so persistent if monument stewards weren’t being so damn intransigent on discussions regarding the potential for moving said monuments. I know discussions elsewhere are productive (Rockville, Memphis), but here in North Carolina, the state government and several counties are taking steps to make sure this conversation never happens. I can imagine the frustration that drives folks to take illicit action.

In the same way, monument stewards should legitimize anti-monument voices in new interpretive initiatives, not criminalize them. As far as I can tell, no new interpretive initiatives are taking place, at least in my state. Yeah, vandalism is a misdemeanor, but consigning a historical counter-narrative to misdemeanor status is stifling the voice of a population that is already criminalized in so many other ways. It will only produce more vandalism.

A broad policy on moving monuments is probably not going to be useful. Local circumstances should dictate monument location, and those circumstances should deprioritize historical interpretation and commemorative concerns. What I mean is that I’m particularly struck by African-American leaders who point out the symbolic power of a Confederate monument that looms over the entrance of a courthouse where many black men and women go to encounter the court system. Is the real problem a broken legal system? Yes. But, for decency’s sake, that monument should be moved in that circumstance. Here in Hendersonville, the Confederate monument is tucked into the corner of the old courthouse, which houses some offices and a museum and is more a tourism stop than a representative of local power. No actual court takes place there. The monument could probably stay where it is. (Meanwhile, at the new courthouse, folks walk along Martin Luther King, Jr. Park before heading inside, where I suspect the system is still broken.)

I say moving, instead of removing, because I’ve noticed that these things do tend to get pushed around the landscape like a chess piece. Many, like the one in Hendo in 1927, were taken out of the middle of roads because they became traffic hazards with the increase of car use in that decade. In 2008, the Hendersonville monument got moved (again) across the (old) courthouse lawn on the whims of a landscape architect who didn’t want it crowding his work. As far as I can tell, no one had a problem with that. (Interestingly, the heritage museum was ready to junk the small R.E. Lee plaque marking the route of the Dixie Highway–part of the National Auto Trail laid out in the 1920s–but the UDC stepped in, and now it resides in an inconspicuous spot behind the old courthouse.)

Ok, that’s it for now. Don’t know if I’ll continue posting here, but if I do, it might involve the relevancy of chain gangs in the 1920s to our present conversation about mass incarceration. Also, I might change the template because this small, gray, font is just not doing it for me.


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