Alabama lawmakers approve sweeping protections for Confederate monuments
The war over Confederate civil war monuments took an interesting turn when the Alabama legislature passed a law protecting the monuments from destruction or removal.
Meanwhile, the city of New Orleans completed the removal of a statue depicting Confederate General Robert E. Lee - still considered by many historians to be one of the greatest generals in American history.
The New Orleans City Council had declared the city's four Confederate monuments a public nuisance.
On Friday police cars circled the last one standing, the imposing statue of General Robert E. Lee, a 16-foot-tall bronze figure mounted on a 60-foot pedestal in the center of Lee Circle near downtown. Live news trucks were parked on side streets, and cameramen watched from the windows of nearby hotel rooms. The air was muggy and tense.
Three monuments already had come down in what represented a sharp cultural changing of the guard: First it was the Liberty Place monument, an obelisk tucked on a back street near the French Quarter that commemorated a Reconstruction Era white supremacist attack on the city's integrated police force; next, Confederate Jefferson Davis — a bronze statue of the only president of the Confederacy, mounted on a pedestal in the working-class Mid-City area of town; then, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, mounted high on a horse in a roundabout at the entrance to City Park.
Statue supporters say they represent an important part of the state's identity and culture — but in a city where 60 percent of the residents are African-American, many see the monuments as an offensive celebration of the Confederacy and the system of slavery it sought to preserve.
There may be justification for the removal of the Liberty Place monument, given the event it was designed to recall. But by removing the obelisk, aren't those who support the destruction of all these monuments inviting us to forget what happened? Of course, we disapprove of "celebrating" the oppression of black people, but instead of taking down the monuments, why not use them to educate the public about a period of time in American history that sincere people on both sides disagreed? The plaques commemorating and explaining the people and events of that period in history would have to be changed. But the monuments themselves could remain as a permanent reminder that no matter how wrong the worldview of one side - and this should be pointed out in the commemoration - that honorable men fought and many died for what they sincerely believed.
Is there no room in America anymore for this kind of rememberance?
The Alabama legislature is taking pains to protect their Confederate monuments, but here too, they may be misguided.
The measure drew opposition this session at nearly every stage of the legislative process. African-American lawmakers have argued that protecting such monuments solidifies a shameful legacy of slavery, while proponents counter that their intention is only to preserve history. Supporters also point out that the bill doesn’t specifically mention Confederate markers.
The GOP-controlled House passed the bill 72-29 after about three hours of resistance from black Democrats, who railed against the measure.
“Those Confederate memorials, they are offensive. They remind us of a time when African-Americans were treated as chattel property,” said Rep. Merika Coleman, a Birmingham Democrat.
Alexander City Republican Rep. Mark Tuggle stepped in during the debate to tell opponents that historical markers significant to blacks would also be preserved by the bill.
“Just to be clear, this protects all monuments,” he said.
Legislators tacked on a series of last-minute amendments to the measure before it passed, pushing the bill back to the Senate for more debate instead of to the governor’s office for a signature.
A previous version of the bill would have stopped changes from being made to monuments that are more than 20 years old but lawmakers removed the time stipulation entirely.
The measure was approved as places around the South are rethinking the appropriateness of monuments honoring the Confederacy. Officials in New Orleans on Monday removed a statue that paid homage to whites who tried to remove a biracial post-Civil War government in that city.
Embracing the entire history of that period requires an accounting for the rancid views of southern slave holders and the fact that the Confederacy was constructed to protect that "peculiar institution." That doesn't mean the statues have to come down. It means that there should be a re-evaluation all around to include the views that slavery was a moral wrong but the men who fought for the Confederacy should be acknowledged for their deeds.
I understand the desire not to glorify the Confederacy. But how many statues to Union generals would have to come down because of their personal view of slavery or racist attitudes toward blacks? Should we scrub the entire civil war era and reconstruction from history because most people on both sides were racist?
Coming to terms with what happened during that painful era in American history requires all sides to seek understanding of one another's point of view. That doesn't appear likely as politicians pander to the prejudices and biases of both whites and blacks on this issue.