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Monuments to the past reflecting the present

(Louisville Images/Flickr)

My parents took a trip to Maryland this spring, staying in the city of Annapolis. While sightseeing, they climbed the hill to the Maryland State House where they were confronted by an unavoidable statue that, from its lofty position, looks over the entire city. The statue was of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney; my father, a history teacher, was shocked.

Taney was the man who authored the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, a landmark case that not only upheld the laws that protected slavery, but also stated that a former slave, even if they were now free, was still not considered a citizen of the United States.

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Va. that were prompted by the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, my family began discussing the statue of Taney and whether or not he deserved to be honored as well.

But our discussion quickly became obsolete, after the city of Annapolis removed the statue of Taney on Aug. 18 at 2:00 a.m., less than a week after the events in Charlottesville.

Was the statue removed because the city of Annapolis suddenly remembered what Taney’s most notable action as Chief Justice was? No, the statue was removed—under the cover of night, no less—“as a matter of public safety.”

Because while we are discussing the morality of statues—from Stonewall Jackson to Thomas Jefferson—the crux of the problem is lost. Removing the statue of Lee only became an issue when people began protesting to protect it, and that issue only became national when that protest turned violent.

So what exactly are people fighting over? What about this statue is worth injuring and killing other people in order to protect?

To those in favor of keeping the statue of Lee standing, that statue represents more than a man; it represents a way of life. It represents a deeply rooted history that is synonymous with their sense of nationalism and pride.

And I would agree that Lee’s statue is more than a representation of a man. It is even more than a representation of a treasonous man. But I see that statue as a representation of the hatred and the racism that was not defeated in the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement or with the election of our nation’s first Black president. To me, and to many other Americans, it represents the continued persecution of Black people in a country that is blinded by its own hateful hypocrisy.

The statue of Lee, and the over 700 other statues and monuments in the United States commemorating Confederate soldiers and leaders, honor what they fought for, which was to uphold the institution of slavery. The statue of Taney honored his time as Chief Justice, made notable—even notorious—by his decision in the Dred Scott case.

But even more importantly, these statues speak to the mindset of Americans during the time period in which they were built.

The statue of Roger Taney was built in 1872, placed in front of the Maryland State House during a time when the Ku Klux Klan was lynching Black people in the South without consequence. The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was built in 1924, the same year that the Racial Integrity Laws were passed in Virginia, prohibiting interracial marriages.

Statues say more than what is written on their plaques. A statue or a monument says something about the people who built it. It represents the values of the people that chose this person, out of all others in its rich history, to celebrate. But to celebrate the individuals that are known for the part they played in oppressing Black Americans is nothing more than a way in which we continue to oppress Black Americans.

Taney was not treasonous. He was a well-respected man who made a decision based on the time that he lived in, but does that make him someone to be celebrated? With his figure prominently in front of the Maryland State House, did he truly represent the values of that state? Did he represent the founding principles that this nation was built on and that we still ascribe to today?

Based on the violence and hatred that was demonstrated in Charlottesville, it’s clear that Taney and Lee might be more accurate representations of present-day America than many of us want to admit. The riots in Charlottesville, the harmful rhetoric and Confederate flags and swastikas being proudly waved do not represent an America that has learnt from its past. To argue that Charlottesville was about a statue, or to argue that it was anything less than America reliving some of its darkest history, is delusional and only takes away from the actual issue: the racism and prejudice that has been embedded in our country since the very beginning.

The race relations in this country will not change unless we actively try to change them. We will never see an undivided America until we stop honoring those who played crucial roles in dividing it.

Tess Halpern is the Opinion/Editorial editor and can be reached at tjhalpern@umass.edu.

Comments
4 Responses to “Monuments to the past reflecting the present”
  1. Nitzakhon says:

    The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party

  2. Nitzakhon says:

    WHO is it that prevents blacks from getting educations? It’s other blacks. Because blacks that pursue education are “oreos” and “acting white”.

    PJ Media – Black Parents Sue School, Claim Bullies Abuse Daughter for ‘Acting White’
    https://pjmedia.com/trending/2017/09/06/black-parents-sue-school-claim-bullies-abuse-daughter-acting-white/
    ** Quote:
    A black family in South Carolina is suing their daughter’s school for failing to protect her from racially motivated abuse at the hands of other students. However, both the abusers and the victim are the same race.

    The high-achieving girl is black, and she is being abused by other black students because her success is apparently too “white.”

  3. Nitzakhon says:

    Oh, and let’s not forget that if you are a black murder victim, over 90% of the time you’ve been killed by another black person.

  4. Ken says:

    This statue tearing-down is moronic. And Orwellian. And stupid. I can’t wait to see the backlash when they come for The Washington Monument.

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