On Thursday Aug. 17, President Donald Trump lamented the removal and proposed removal of monuments of terror in America, by some states, while having the racist audacity to equate the likes of Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson to Washington, Jefferson.
Trump made an argument for keeping Confederate monuments in tact. In addition, the president also lamented the removal of monuments that have already been taken down. In one of Trump’s tweets about Confederate statues, he said,
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments….Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! ”
Trump’s tweets were a step further from his previous remarks on the subject of removing Confederate statues, which he spoke about during a press conference on Tuesday.
On that occasion, the president similarly asked what tearing down monuments dedicated to Confederate generals who wanted to uphold slavery would mean for other famous American figures who owned slaves.
A day after that press conference, the city of Baltimore removed all four of its statues related to the Confederacy. Around the country, more cities are expected to remove Confederate monuments, as others are considering a similar change.
On Wednesday night, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced via Twitter that his state would be removing statues of Lee and Jackson “because New York stands against racism.”
Lee was a slave-owning Confederate General (who was reportedly quite cruel to his slaves). He resigned from the Union army in order to fight for Virginia, his home state, and his likeness is seen as a symbol of Confederate pride. He’s been quoted as saying that slavery is a great “moral & political evil” as a defense, and many argue that he was a states’ rights advocate, but Lee’s position, and that quote, is often taken out of context.
The full quote by Robert E Lee reads:
“The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence”.
In other words: he thought that, while slavery was morally reprehensible for white Christians, it was beneficial, and even divined by God himself to “help” these slaves. That is literally the definition of white supremacy.
Many of these statues were erected in the 20th century, right around the start of Jim Crow. They were symbols meant to intimidate black people and remind them of their rightful place.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) put together a handy visual to show when the lion’s share of these statues were erected. The Charlottesville Lee statue, for example, was erected in 1924. There are Confederate monuments as far west as Seattle, which has a 1926 monument erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy. Washington wouldn’t become a state until 1889 — over 20 years after the Civil War ended.
When the construction of Confederate monuments began. It wasn’t a celebration of “heritage.” Most monuments were erected between 1895 and World War I, coinciding with Jim Crow. Some were erected as late as the civil rights era.
They were part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution, and their installation came against a backdrop of Jim Crow and oppression of African Americans. The monuments were put up as explicit symbols of white supremacy.
So, of course white supremacists want to protect these statues. When white supremacists gather to protest the removal of these statues, they’re protesting the removal of symbols of overt white supremacy.
This is why protesters toppled a Confederate monument outside of a courthouse in Durham, North Carolina. It’s why Baltimore quietly removed four Confederate statues in the dead of night.
It’s why, when black Americans say that these statues are symbols of oppression, we should listen. We have a long way to go, but toppling these terrifying symbols of white supremacy is a start.