Un-Monumental Moments: Response to Caroline Randall Williams

17 Jul

The recent New York Times opinion piece submitted by Caroline Randall Williams suggests that tearing down statues of Confederates is a panacea to the trauma endured by Blacks during slavery in America. 

As a descendant of Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Edmund Pettus, it is clear where Williams rage and anger about the Confederacy derives.  

Yet as a possible African American descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, I suggest that real strength comes not from replacing “Monuments of stone and metal, ... monuments of cloth and wood … man-made monuments”  in an attempt to create better optics, but to acknowledge the growth one has made in spite of it. 

To  reconstruct a a narrative for future generations devoid of the physical  presence of evils of our race not only puts history out of sync but leads to the belief that one can violently remove any presence that offends rather than finding the abiding solutions that lie within to overcome past atrocities.

True history not consists not only of triumphs, but of failures and losses. Of depravity and brutality. From time immemorial groups of people have been held in captivity, yet their souls and spirits have endured. 

We only know of the victories of the Jewish race because there is literature about a dictator. We understand the Cinco De Mayo victory because there was a Napoleon. We celebrate Juneteenth because there was the persecution of slavery.

It is not about forgetting but a powerful remembering of the wrong and giving it a perspective that no longer dominates or torments ones mind. 

The solutions lie in the enduring notion of forgiveness where the Black race has always found its strength. Once associated with weakness it is nonetheless a powerful idea that has worked its way into the 21st century and gives power to those who have overcome egregious wrongs perpetuated on them.

Life is never Black and White.The rancor of today over slave ownership fails to take into account that slavery was an institution that permeated the economic and social norms of its day.

As is the case with Jefferson Davis and Ulysses Grant, Confederate and Union participants lived their lives while the ills of slavery served as a backdrop to their daily activities. Both Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Union General Ulysses  Grant were slave owners. 

Those gray areas of history further reveal that it was not only the Confederate armies who engaged in mistreatment of slaves but Union troops as well who participated in the concentration- like murders of  20,000 freed slaves consisting of men, women and children.

And while Abraham Lincoln is given all the credit for freeing slaves from their physical plight, rarely do accounts of Jefferson Davis’ life  reveal that the confederate president’s thoughts on slavery were well advanced for his time day and even in the midst of slavery foreshadowed the thinking of Booker T Washington who a decade and a half later later would suggest a path for Blacks through the skilled trades.  

Ultimately, both Union and Confederates had to grapple with a developing revelation that slavery was an egregious ill that could no longer be normalized. Statues will never reveal how hearts and minds unfolded as each gained cognizance of the ills of slavery. 

Picking through history and violently charging at monuments that ostensibly reveal past offenses is reckless, erroneous, and reduces one to the level of the offender.

So overcoming racial divisions will not be accomplished with the pick and axle but by placing life in context with the growth and spiritual maturity that Black Americans have attained throughout the years. It is less about tearing down physical monuments than it is addressing the systemic racial biases that still permeate areas of our current day. 

As it stands now, when the monuments are toppled, corporate America will still only cast what the author refers to as “rape colored skin” in its advertising. Hollywood will stubbornly resist giving dark-skinned black Americans meaningful roles. 

So we must recognize that ultimately, the history written in the stark lines of dates, political parties, and records of manumission will never reveal the sentiments of the major players. Monuments stand as poignant reminders of how history has unfolded.

When every monument is torn down, if what is left standing is a nation that refuses to look at the roles they are playing in their every day interactions that contribute to racial divides, what will endure are practices and polices which mockingly remind us that statues, after all were only “...[m]onuments of stone and metal, ... monuments of cloth and wood … man-made monuments.” 

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