Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?
Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.
The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.
We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.
Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.
Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.
Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?
- Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
- Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
- President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
- Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
- Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?
If anything the number one lesson I picked up from Charlottesville is that Open Carry is, in practice at least, a horrible idea. In my rose colored world view I never thought people would be stupid enough to bring guns to a protest. It isn’t just irresponsible, it’s un-American, and it defies reason. I had to re-learn again and again that people aren’t reasonable, responsible, and are too often un-American.
The police were unable to respond to violence because there were plenty of people within literal shooting distance brandishing ARs. If any officer called in sick that day, I’d totally understand. Open Carry is inevitably a recipe for sectarian violence and it moves us closer to an America I find harder to recognize.
In that respect if it happens here, it shouldn’t be like Charlottesville.
The only question that pops up in my head: Regarding Confederate monuments should we delineate between monuments dedicated to war dead and monuments regarding the Confederate state or should these be viewed equally?
Random questions to ponder that I’ll type out stream of consciousness over a glass of wine:
1. What practical effect does removing statutes have?
2. Why has this become a flash-point now? If time is said to heal all wounds, how is this more of a contentious issue now than it was decades ago? For context, at the 75th anniversary of Gettysburg, FDR said this:
3. Is it perhaps because we’ve gotten away from Lincoln’s request that we be a people “with malice toward none, with charity towards all”? Perhaps having living members of those who fought at Gettysburg made FDR’s 1938 commemoration more about unity today that the divisive issues of the past? Is it possible that those on both sides of the debate over monuments be more charitable to those with different perspectives?
4. Why don’t I drink more Italian wine?
5. Part of southern culture involves a deep but conflicted connection to the past. For almost all Southerners (white and black) the past is filled with ignoble histories, pain, and loss. I’m talking about the south of Faulkner and Conroy. Part of those statues commemorates that pain. For instance, that’s how I see the Confederate soldier monument in front of the capitol. To me, he looks tired and sad, leaning on that rifle waiting for the end, perhaps watching a surrender. (I don’t really have a question here, just rambling…)
6. What is the standard for which we should set to have a statue of someone? We have all lived imperfect lives. Great men who shaped history quite often have complicated lives full of imperfection and conflict. Patton was a devout Catholic who believed in reincarnation. FDR interned Japanese-Americans without due process, but led America out of the Depression. Andrew Jackson kept the union together by threatening to use force against a state that was nullifying federal laws, but he also removed Indians from the southeast, yet he also adopted an Indian boy as a son.
7. Statues are reminders of the past. You can take them down, but you can’t erase the past. (That seems to argue both for and against taking them down, doesn’t it?) One of my favorite Faulkner lines seems appropriate to end:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Your last line of Faulkner explains why the politicized “Lost Cause” monuments should come down. These statues were put up to keep present the idea of white supremacy. While I am generally in favor of keeping the soldier monuments; the one in front of the statehouse was hijacked for this politicized purpose and should be relocated to a place where it can return to being a soldier’s memorial.
These are choices we make today – about ourselves and our perceived future. How we remember the past is by definition selection of our future.
Patton was a devout Catholic who believed in reincarnation.
And he slapped a private for crying. The trifecta of imperfection. 🙂
The lesson from Charlottesville that we should focus on is the rise of the pro-Trump and by extension pro-Republican Alt Right bigotry. I found it shocking how people bent over backwards to minimize the size of the tiki-torch crowd that came out in support of a variety of white supremacy causes. Trump has engendered a growing movement of bigotry that will threaten the very fabric of our nation if we don’t respond correctly. We should not make a big deal out of the Confederate statues. Hell, Ben Tillman is by far the most offensive statue on the state house grounds with J. Marion Sims a close second. Let’s get rid of those vile monuments and leave Wade Hampton and the soldier statue in place. But to those folks who minimize the crowd in Charlottesville by understating their numbers (it was far more than the 100 many people on this blog suggested) we risk allowing these people to attract more adherents who see these movements as normalized. In short the problem isn’t statues but the much more dangerous mainstream bigoted movement unleashed by the bigot in chief – Donald J. Trump.
“And he slapped a private for crying.”
Interesting historical note: My dad was an Army doctor who was deployed to the first gulf war near the end of his service when Saddam invaded Kuwait. He ended up assigned to the 93rd Evac Hospital, which is the same unit where Patton famously slapped that soldier.
The question at the core of the conflict is a simple one:
Is the Confederacy’s cause worthy of being memorialized – in the sense of revering or eulogizing?
That’s the question folks have to grapple with. It’s not about remembering history. History remains whether or not we erect monuments to it. And it’s not about mourning fallen Confederate soldiers. The time for that is long past. Monuments and memorials are about the identity we choose for ourselves as a community. That identity can change – and has.
So while I don’t propose pulling down all the statues tomorrow, I will not defend them.
Just as an aside, I have to say that 11:30 am is not a very convenient time for a public forum. A few weeks ago I went to one in Greenville on the proposal to change the name of Wade Hampton High School. That one took place in the evening, when regular folk could actually attend.