I am writing regarding the ongoing public controversy concerning the removal of statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy. The argument that I most often hear is that by removing these statues, we are “erasing our history,” creating a false narrative for future generations. I would like to offer a differing view.
One of the courses I took while in seminary was called “The Ethics of Memorials.” For each class, the professor presented slides of various memorials – buildings, statues, plaques – and explained the reasons that each was constructed. In no case was the reason to preserve history. Memorial statues serve the purpose of public ethics, to lift up those things we most cherish and honor, preserving them for future generations. They are not neutral commemorations of historical events. They exist to publicly demonstrate that which we hold most dear.
Some claim that the purpose of the Confederacy was to fight for the right of states to determine their own destiny, free of the dictates of a larger power, the Union. Those apologists often don’t recognize or choose to ignore the fact that the wealth of the South was based on the ability to enslave persons of another race – to own them, use them and abuse them as they wished, to deny them their autonomy, to deny them even their humanity. Statues which publicly honor the “heroes” of the Confederacy publicly support, honor and cherish ideals of dehumanization and brutality against our fellow human beings, our Black brothers and sisters.
Is this what we wish to honor? Surely not. Museums are the place for recognizing history, explaining it and placing it in context. If the charter and mission of the Kentucky Museum allow, I believe it would be a fitting place to study these statues and for us all to learn from the mistakes of our past.