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Historians Weigh In on Confederate Monuments

August 30, 2017
 
 

Historians have been called upon heavily to make sense of the political present via their knowledge of the past. And this week, the American Historical Association released a statement addressing the ongoing debate over what to do with Confederate monuments.

“Nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without anything resembling a democratic process,” the statement says. “Regardless of their representation in the actual population in any given constituency, African-Americans had no voice and no opportunity to raise questions about the purposes or likely impact of the honor accorded to the builders of the Confederate States of America.” The AHA, it says, “recommends that it’s time to reconsider these decisions.”

At the same time, the statement encourages communities “to remember that all memorials remain artifacts of their time and place.” They should thus be preserved, “just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue.”

Addressing arguments that removing some Confederate monuments could start a chain reaction, AHA said that decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals “and officials who have no other major historical accomplishment does not necessarily create a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years.”

George Washington owned enslaved people, AHA said, “but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. There is no logical equivalence between the builders and protectors of a nation -- however imperfect -- and the men who sought to sunder that nation in the name of slavery. There will be, and should be, debate about other people and events honored in our civic spaces. And precedents do matter. But so does historical specificity, and in this case the invocation of flawed analogies should not derail legitimate policy conversation.”

The full AHA statement is available here.

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