On July 9th, 1776, just days after the Continental Congress declared independence from the British Empire, a crowd of impassioned Americans rallied in a Manhattan park. In a frenzy, the mob tore down the statue of the King George III, the tyrannical oppressor who haughtily turned down colonial pleas for peace and reconciliation just a year before. The tyrant’s statue, a physical representation of the British Empire that had dominated the world for years on end, was brought down for two reasons: the first was for ammunition. With an inevitable war on the way, the colonists needed lead for bullets. The second, perhaps more significant purpose, was a symbolic one. This new nation, unlike any before in the history of the world, had rejected the tyranny of the Old World. The moment the king’s statue came down represented a shift from monarchy to democracy, a new government in which the people would govern, rather than be governed.
In Durham, North Carolina, a similar scene emerged as just one example of a nationwide trend. The Durham mob cheered frantically as the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the county courthouse came crashing down, shouting in unison, “We are the revolution!” Rather than declaring independence from an oppressive government, these protesters seem to be declaring independence from their own history.
Why are people calling for the removal of Confederate statues all of a sudden? According to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, we should not have to explain to the young African-American women of our nation “why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains.”
On the contrary, it is paramount that we explain why such a statue stands to all Americans.
The biggest problem with removing any historical monuments and the larger radical left agenda in general is that they desire to whitewash history. By forbidding Confederate statues, they seek to blot out the most critical era of our nation’s history since its inception. If we are to tell the next generation all they need to know about the Confederacy is that they were an evil rebel group united behind a common belief in the peculiar institution of slavery, we are altering our own history to satisfy a political agenda.
At Rhodes College, there is a contentious debate over one of the oldest buildings on our campus called Palmer Hall, named after Benjamin Palmer, a man known most for his biblical justification of slavery. He looked to the Curse of Ham in Genesis to say God made black men inferior to white men and therefore they should be subjugated. If not for the name of the building, Palmer Hall, I would have likely never learned about Benjamin Palmer and his beliefs. But because I know about it, his story becomes a lesson. I can better understand how his contemporaries approached the issue of slavery and I can study why this belief has died out. History is not to be forgotten, but studied so that we may learn from it and apply those lessons to our own lives today.
Take Robert E. Lee, for example. Across the South, we find not just his likeness in the form of a statue, but his name on public schools, streets, and colleges. To dismiss him as a general in the crusade for slavery is to ignore the life of one of the most brilliant and compassionate Americans in history. The decision to resign from the Union Army and to join the Confederacy was not an easy one, nor was it motivated by the issue of slavery. In his beautiful Virginia home, he paced the floor, mulling over the momentous decision. While loyal to his country, he felt it a moral necessity to defend his home. A brilliant tactician, he did well in the Civil War. Even with fewer troops, he was able to outfox the Union Army under General McClellan. When he was finally defeated at the Appomattox Court House in April of 1865, he humbly surrendered, encouraging his men to do the same, though they wanted desperately to continue the war in defense of their native land. After the war, while Lee was attending church at St. Paul’s in Richmond, a black man rose from his pew and knelt at the communion rail. The congregation sat in stunned silence, unsure of what to do. Lee likewise rose from his seat and received communion next to the man, which prompted others to do the same.
We learn from Robert E. Lee to lead by example and to do what is right, even when others are unsure or unwilling. How can we obscure his story and the lessons to be gained from it with a veil of racism and bigotry?
As the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Aside from lessons in morality, the South has a rich cultural history, from the social graces of the aristocratic plantation families to the soulful songs of the slaves working the fields. To erase any portion of our history is to do a disservice to the generations to come by robbing them of both their education and their cultural roots, whether they are black or white. The Left fears offending members of our African-American community by allowing these statues to stand. It is more important to our nation’s vitality to protect history than it is to protect feelings. Instead of shunning these statues and cursing their existence, learn from them. Learn who these individuals are and why people have erected monuments in their honor. Study their successes and their failures. Destroying their memory is not a revolutionary act, not like bringing down King George III in the midst of a paradigm shift that would impact the entire world. Instead, it is a self-destructive act, one that will echo through the generations after we have left our own marks on this world.
Matthew Broussard is a featured Staff Writer for The Campus Conservative, and a second year student at Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tennessee.