Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA. Image Credit- Will Fisher. License By CC 2.0

Contrasts: Black Lives Matter Activists Demand Erasure of Slavery’s History; Jews Ask That We Never Forget Holocaust

I just heard that statues of Ulysses S. Grant is coming down.

Or, at least it will if Black activists get their way.

Actually, a Grant statue is San Fransisco has been toppled, while others have been vandalized across the United States.

Grant fought the Confederate Army. And won. Meaning, slavery had ended.

Grant owned a slave for a year but gave him up.

Had he redeemed himself?

Apparently not.

He literally fought slavery.

Ensured that Black POWs from the South (yes; some Black people actually fought to keep slavery going) were treated well.

It is true that Grant pushed Native Americans onto reservations. Also during his presidency, the herds of buffalo were decimated. Is that what’s of issue, or the fact that he owned a slave, briefly?

While statues of many historical North American and United States figures are coming down, is this actually a good thing?

There’s the statue of Theodore Roosevelt gracing the entranceway to the Museum of Natural History located on the Upper West Side. Roosevelt wasn’t a racist, per se, but the juxtaposition of Black and Native American men flanking him represents subjugation, according to detractors.

In fact, the Museum and City of New York organized a study group to explore this very topic nearly a year ago. It was determined that the statue could stay, as the non-White subjects were not shown in “abject” condition, but rather symbolized the native peoples of Africa and the Americas.

But many other monuments and memorials are now gone, and still others will be going soon, particularly Confederate statues.

Perhaps this isn’t so bad; maybe these figures shouldn’t have had a statue honoring them in the first place? Not everyone agrees.

In any case, we’ve lost The Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, North Carolina; Silent Sam, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; The Screven County Confederate Dead Monument, in Sylvania, Georgia; the bust of Robert E. Lee in Ft. Myers, Florida. And that was back in 2019, long before the George Floyd social activism.

In the last month, many other statues have been vandalized or toppled. It’s becoming so common a sight on the nightly news that one could rightly question whether a full fledged social revolution is underway.

On June 24, activists also tore down a statiue of Col. Hans Christian Heg from in front of the Wisconsin state capitol building. Heg had been an anti-slavery activist. He fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, losing his life.

They’ve also recently torn down and vandalized numerous statues of Christopher Columbus, credited with “discovering America.” However, Columbus is  also long associated with bringing slavery to the New World, and having subjugated the “Indians,” according to his own journals.

Columbus is also the symbol of achievement and overcoming oppression for Italian-Americans, a group that was also much maligned throughout our nation’s brief history.

And so, it’s quite clear that a statue, beyond being a work of creative expression, may simultaneously mean many different things to different demographics.

Slavery and exploitation are an integral part of U.S., and world, history. That’s a fact. (In fact, worldwide, slavery is still thriving; it seems this topic is deserving of far more attention than it gets.)

The same history that produced slavery and genocide of “Indians” also produced the Civil Rights movement, Fair Housing laws, and a culture of tolerance and learning. The very social climate that birthed the #BLM movement, in fact.

There are few statues of saintly historical figures, except in Churches. And even many of  those were likely not perfect people. Probably not even a few. Among humans, skeletons in closets abound.

Reminders of slavery are all around us if we look. But now Black Lives Matter activists are demanding that these all be destroyed.

Sometimes angry mobs are simply acting on their feelings and toppling the statues themselves; forget about waiting for the statue to be decommissioned. Screw the paperwork.

Is that really a good thing?

In World War II, the Jews of Europe were relocated and numbers decimated, much like the American Natives on this side of the Atlantic a century before.

First it was the closing in of the Jewish people within the ghettos, without means of survival. Next, it was forcible relocation to work camps. And finally, it was death for millions.

Have the Jews demanded that concentration camps be destroyed, every stone toppled?

Quite the opposite; today these sites serve as museums and learning sites where people can explore history.

Jews do not want the world to forget, lest a tragedy unfold similarly in the future.

We should never forget. If it could happen to the Jews, it could happen to you.

It could be about your gender, your faith, your skin color. It could be about your beliefs.

It could be about anything, really.

Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA. Image Credit- Will Fisher. License By CC 2.0

Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA. Image Credit- Will Fisher. License By CC 2.0

Holocausts are not good, to put it mildly. Just like slavery is not good.

Perhaps a plaque explaining the complex history associated with a person who has been memorialized would be better. State the good, as well as the bad. Show that often, real life is not black and white, despite our efforts to sanitize things and make it so.

Explain that while America has some great aspects, some of our history is fraught with pain and suffering inflicted on marginalized groups.

This idea of a plaque was suggested by my German friend, who grew up in East Germany. Of course he’s aware of his own country’s tumultuous history, so maybe his perspective is worth giving a thought.

First they had the Nazification by Hitler.

Then the Sovietization by Russia. The Berlin Wall. The falling of the wall.

If any people have seen ups and downs, it’s been the residents of East Germany. Still, there’s a reason we don’t want to erase history.

The Native Americans suffered. The “Negro” slaves suffered. The very term was rooted in racialist ideas that some races are “better” than others. It’s a fact. Don’t believe it? Google “eugenics.”

Likewise, many immigrant groups have suffered. The Muslims after 9-11. The Sikhs, mistaken for Muslims, after 9-11.

Italians in the early 20th Century. The largest mass-lynching in U.S. history should mean something, after all. Here’s a hint: it wasn’t done to Black people.

The Irish. Need not apply? Yes; it happened. Irish people were forced to live among Black people in poor communities. No one else wanted them around. No one wanted to hire them.

It goes on and on. Few White people owned slaves. Most were poor. And still are.

The 1 percent have always been the one percent. The 99% that comprised the rest of society? They usually didn’t get statues erected in their honor.

Our history is a story of good and bad, but it’s our unique story. In the end, it’s all we have.

Should we keep the statues, marble personages of historical figures that past generations felt were important enough to commemorate?

It was usually the ruling class that installed statues, remember. Of course there will be a bias toward those movers and shakers that formed America and not the ordinary people who stood in the background, working out the details of it all.

We could have new statues commissioned. Statues celebrating our other sorts of victories, far removed from the battlefield.

A statue of a real slave that once lived. An Irish laborer that dug the Subways. A Chinese farmer who plowed the fields out West.

Statues of people like Marcus Garvey.  Guiseppe Garibaldi. Jimmy Hoffa. Andy Warhol. Harriet Tubman.

We could add to our historical record told in the form of figure art.

Instead, we’re subtracting.

We all know the adage about those who are doomed to repeat history due to their forgetting.

We’re halfway there.

Black Lives Matter Must Equal Justice For All

Black Lives Matter, as a social activism movement,  must stand for equal rights for all, or it stands for nothing.

The responses to this slogan have been the creation of yet more new slogans: White Lives Matter and even All Lives Matter.

It is not a given that such responses are a negation of the message of equality and civil rights for all. Or, that they’re rooted in hate, necessarily.

Perhaps in a few cases, it’s meant to suggest that equality is bad, and White lives matter more, but generally it’s likely an attempt to state that everyone matters, and nothing else.

It’s not malice in most instances; it’s just a response of “Hey! We matter, too!” and “It’s not just Black people that matter! Each and every person does!”

The misunderstandings continue. Grow, even.

Of course all lives matter and all people matter.

But Black Lives Matter refers specifically to the injustices Black people experienced in the past, and remedying ongoing injustices against the Black community.

So of course, many liberal-minded social activists, in turn, misinterpret this next round of slogans as a negation of the message that injustices against Black folks is wrong and must end.

Since American history is intertwined with slavery, segregation, and oppression for Black people and other groups, how can we remove our memories of the bad without also removing the good?

Turns out, it’s nigh impossible.

Of all historical figures memorialized with statues, Ulysses S. Grant is among those that helped Black people get where they are today.

If he hadn’t stepped up and lent his efforts to the Union war effort, who knows. Perhaps the Confederacy would have won?

We might have had a United States where every state permits legal slavery, and not just the South. We’d be in a parallel present, a very different world.

Who knows? We might have had Black slaves, Hispanic slaves, Irish slaves, Italian slaves, Asian slaves, and even poor White slaves. I, for one, am quite happy Ulysses S. Grant sacrificed his comfort and chose to fight the Confederacy.

One Comment

  • Avatar Diane in Westerleigh says:

    So nice what they did to that statue. Oh and I read about the other statues that have been pulled down. Some were anti slavery. Makes a lot of sense.

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