Monday, January 01, 2007

Emancipation and remembrance

Today is the 144th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. New Year's Day--not a hard connection to make. How come we don't remember? (Well, some people do remember.)

Relatedly, from several sources lately I've heard about the call by the president of the University of Texas to have a discussion about the campus' memorials to Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. He's planning an "advisory committee." I don't know the particulars of this one, but both the call and the response are achingly predictable. We've seen it at UNC.

Kevin Levin's posing of the question on his blog has generated an interesting dialogue with a Georgia man. This man's comments challenge Kevin to get to the heart of the matter:

I am not suggesting that these monuments were placed for necessarily "anti-black" reasons. What I am asking you to think about is the fact that until recently the overwhelming number of statues that commemorate the Civil War throughout the country were placed by white Americans. Again, I am not suggesting overt racism in all of these cases, but you must remember that the decision re: who and/or what issues would be remembered were decided by white Americans who enjoyed a monopoly on political control, especially in the South. I guess what I am wondering is if the landscape of monuments would have been more diverse had political participation through basic civil rights been extended to black Americans. The answer seems to me to be a resounding yes. Is it any surprise that African Americans would find statues to N.B. Forrest offensive? Don't you think black Americans would have voiced these concerns at the time these statues were unveiled? Might Monument Avenue in Richmond looked different had its substantial black population had a chance to voice its concerns about who would be immortalized?

I am working on the assumption that if one race monopolizes political power they will also monopolize the process of remembrance. And that process of remembrance will reinforce political control. It's a vicious cycle.
I heartily endorse Kevin's suggested further reading: David Blight's Race and Reunion and Kirk Savage's Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves.

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