Opinion: Civil War Statues: Don’t Move ’em, Cover ’em

The following is an opinion article by PoliticusUSA contributor Tobias Grant.

A few years back, the Smithsonian Institution had an exhibit commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  They had his famous top hat.  Way cool!  They had a model of his one known invention – a device for freeing stuck canal boats. Clever! Who knew?  Lots more things Lincoln.  It was moving, being so close to so many things so connected with our greatest President.  Intensely tragic.

Then I saw a shocker: eight canvas hoods.   The seven men and one woman who conspired to kill the President wore these hoods in their cells and on their way to the trial. 

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I’d never heard this part of the story before, and frankly, it made me uneasy.  In this day and age, we’re inured to hearing how cruel jailers were to prisoners.  It’s a past we’ve progressed beyond.  And surely if anyone deserved a measure of cruelty in some vague “just deserts” sense, it was Honest Abe’s killers.  But still, it was ghoulish.

I thought about those hoods all of a sudden today, hearing and reading all the commentary about removing Civil War statues.  I’m sticking with my preferred option, that state and local governments legislate the statues’ removal to museums and warehouses.  In fact, I insist on prosecution of people in mobs who pull the statues down themselves.

Removing statues is not erasing history.  They will still be around, still be viewable.  History will still be on the books.  There is no memory hole for things about the Confederacy.   Instead, removing statues a matter of public memory, a matter of the public having before it things that remind us of what we want to be, what we think we ought to want to be.

And it hit me – what about putting hoods on the statues?  Maybe even modelling them after hoods worn by Lincoln’s murder conspirators?  And just leaving the statues in place?  There could be no claim that history was being “erased.”  If anything, history was being copied into where it needed to be.

And frankly, in a moment reprehensible schadenfreude, I liked the idea of peeving off the worst of the “Southern Heritage” folks, which — get real – aren’t merely and exclusively benign history geeks.  They get to keep the statues in place, but also with a figurative but entirely appropriate thumb in their eye.

A thumb in the eye.  Well that’s not so good, I realized soon enough.  These benighted souls are still our neighbors, and long after this controversy dies down, we’ll all be living in the same country.  The added insult is unnecessary, and it would inflame passions rather than smooth things over.

But what about simply covering the statues up?  Again the statues would remain in place, but the tarps would be a reminder that their communities consider their presence to be a moral shortcoming.

It would work for the Stone Mountain sculpture, too.  No sense aping what the Taliban did to the Bamiyan statues of Buddha.

Like I said, my preferred option is that these statues be removed and preserved where they can be part of history rather than public memory.  But if there’s a community where that is politically impossible, draping the statues might be something all can put up with.

Maybe the tarps could be giant American flags.

 

 

 

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