According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 59 Confederate symbols have been removed across the country since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. This includes 38 monuments that have been removed entirely, 5 monuments that have been relocated, 9 schools that have been renamed, 5 parks/trails/roads/water bodies that have been renamed, the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from the Mississippi state flag, and the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from a police uniform in South Dakota. This total accounts for nearly half of the Confederate symbols removed since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, meaning that the pace of removals over the past 3 months has drastically accelerated.
Contrary to the opinions of the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is a tragedy. The removal of Confederate monuments, names, flags, and other symbols is not only the removal of an important part of America’s history; it is also the removal of values and ideals that are a crucial part of our nation’s identity.
The Confederacy is not synonymous with racism, or with slavery. The Confederacy was a collection of states that attempted to form their own country, a collection of people who fought for their independence. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned and having a less industrialized economy, the Confederacy stood up to the federal government. Therefore, the Confederacy stands for freedom, defiance, rebelliousness, and resistance to authority. These are all positive qualities that are central to what it means to be an American; after all, our country came into existence as a rebellion against unjust taxation. To obliterate Confederate iconography is to erase not only Southern heritage but the very values upon which America was founded.
Each Confederate statue, just like any other statue, stands for a human being from history, with both good and bad attributes. The fact that the individuals honored by these statues fought for the Confederacy does not make them bad, any more than a statue of someone who fought for the Union is inherently bad. No person is perfect and no country is perfect. Yes, the Confederacy had slavery, which nearly everyone today would consider a negative attribute. But the Union and its leaders invaded the Confederate states, carved a swath of complete destruction across the South, instituted the draft, made it illegal to criticize the government, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, meaning that anyone could be jailed for any reason. And they did all this in order to force the people of the South to remain part of the country against their will. Why is this considered perfectly acceptable while the Confederacy, along with everything associated with it, is condemned?
Both sides in the Civil War deserve to be recognized and celebrated. Erasing and defaming the losing side of a war is intolerant, conformist, and authoritarian. Every removal of a Confederate symbol is an assault on diversity, moving America closer to becoming a completely homogeneous, conformist, cookie-cutter nation in which all people think alike, a nation with no culture, no identity, and nothing that makes it different from any other nation. People from all backgrounds and all regions of the country should be able to honor their ancestors and celebrate their heritage.
One tiny glimmer of good news is the fact that there are still 725 Confederate statues and 1,800 total symbols of the Confederacy remaining, according to the SPLC’s report. However, because it is almost certain that no new Confederate symbols will be added in the current political climate, each instance of a symbol being removed is tragic beyond measure. Each loss is essentially permanent, a thing of glory, beauty, and magnificence lost forever, never to be replaced. All true patriots must fight to ensure that each and every one of these 1,800 Confederate symbols is preserved forever.