As I turn on the TV to my local news, I am once again presented with the exasperating coverage of the removal of a Confederate statue from Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando. This isn’t only happening in Orlando but the fight to remove Confederate statues is also happening in places like Memphis, New Orleans, and other places across the South.
The Orlando statue was given to the city of by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1917 and has remained by the lake since the mid-1930’s.
Florida has a past deeply rooted in Southern history. Being the third state to secede from the Union on January 10th, 1861. Florida had all of the characteristics of a typical Southern state until the mid-20th century when Walt Disney moved into Florida and the tourism industry began to boom.
Tallahassee was the only state capital east of the Mississippi River to not fall into Union hands by the end of the Civil War and at one point Florida was even the lynching capitol of the United States.
Though Florida has its ugly racist past, many Floridians are working hard to correct the wrongdoings of former Floridians. This is shown by Florida’s official apology to the “Groveland Four”, a group of young, black men wrongly convicted of rape in 1949, as well as many other corrections like it.
With all of this being said, what exactly does moving a Confederate statue accomplish?
The debate about Confederate history in American culture has been a hot button issue ever since June 17th, 2015 when Dylann Roof heinously killed nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
His white supremacist views and association with the Confederate flag caused many people to target the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy and advocate for their removal from the public sphere.
Many people began to question the place of Confederate symbolism in the present day United States of America. One side arguing that it is a symbol of slavery, white supremacy, and hate with the other side arguing that it is a symbol of history, that shouldn’t soon be forgotten.
There has been a lot done to eliminate Confederate symbolism nationally. In Charleston, South Carolina, not long after the attack, the Confederate flag that was flown at the state capital building was taken down and in Washington D.C. at the Washington National Cathedral, plans were made to remove the two images of the Confederate flag from stained glass depictions of the Civil War.
The backlash against Confederate imagery is not only on a public level but on a private level as well. Recently a black woman in California filed a lawsuit against her former employer because he gifted her with a purse that had a Confederate flag design on it.
Instead of looking at the imagery of Confederate statues and flags as hate and intolerance, those symbols should be used for discussion. People need to sit down and talk. They need to talk about the past and the future and most importantly, they need to listen.
Discussing these things in a controlled classroom environment with a curriculum mandated by the state will not do anyone any good. Discussing these issues online are just as ineffective. We need to use this imagery that was once a symbol for fear as a symbol for open and honest conversation to understand one another.
For many in the South, Confederate imagery represents Southern culture and does not glorify the meanings that the images use to hold.
As author and sociologist John Shelton Reed said “Southern identity now has more to do with food, accents, manners, music than the Confederate past. It’s something that’s open to both races, a variety of ethnic groups and people who move here.”
For me, insisting that Confederate statues remain in place is not an endorsement of white supremacy, racism, or slavery, though many detractors would argue that it is.
Instead it is an endorsement of history. I believe it is important to keep these symbols in place as a reminder to every person that looks at them that America can be an ugly place, filled with hate, but it can also be a place filled with hope.
A place full of people willing to die to protect the freedoms that every person in this country deserves. No one should look at the imagery and feel threatened because then they are giving power to the people that look to silence them.
People should look at the symbolism and see just how far we have come and how far we still need to go but they should have the hope that we will get there one day.
Instead of removing the statue, plaques should be put in place explaining their significance and their history.
Or bigger monuments to the Union soldiers and generals that fought and died in the Civil War should be erected right next to the Confederate monuments.
The Orlando statue will be moved to the Evergreen Cemetery where it will be forgotten, and with it, the history it holds.