The building of monuments and statues or affixing someone’s name to a building or street is about memorializing history, but it’s also about power and, to some degree, dominance.
When the 13 colonies were a British possession, statues of King George III were common. Cities, towns and streets often bore the names of British royalty, writes Business Report Executive Editor JR Ball, in his new opinion piece.
Yes, these things were both tribute and a history of how these colonies came to life. But they were also symbols of who was in charge, and these monuments were toppled as the United States was formed.
These symbolic representations of power are what’s on the table as the Baton Rouge community currently finds itself debating—rather passionately and largely along racial lines—the renaming of the public magnet high school that honors former slave owner and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Though the East Baton Rouge school board is now moving down the path of renaming the school, the strong defense of Lee continues. School board member Connie Bernard and thousands of others in this town are all too willing to whitewash the sins of Lee, the Confederacy and a Jim Crow South that stains much of this nation’s 20th century.
It’s long past time to erase the revisionist Lost Cause myth, first spun by Southern whites in the early 1900s in an effort to romanticize and justify the actions of Lee and his fellow Confederate traitors, Ball writes.
In reality, Lee was a brutal slave master who had zero problem inflicting pain on the humans he owned. And he went to war with America, fighting for the right to continue owning Black people for as long as it made business sense.
What many of us might want to deny and what Black people are screaming at us today is that by continuing to honor the Confederacy we are tacitly endorsing the notion of white dominance and superiority.
The scale of power has been against Black citizens since the dawn of this country, and ongoing institutional racism only serves to keep the balance of that power in check.
Without question, more pressing than academic and legal buildings in town that honor segregationists of our recent past are the myriad challenges facing our Black neighbors on an everyday basis.
Unfortunately, the scales will never begin to balance without leadership and trust on both sides of Baton Rouge’s racial divide. Let’s not kid ourselves, it won’t be easy. One side is angry and has had enough of its second-class status; the other isn’t comfortable ceding any of the power it has enjoyed forever.
But removing the remaining vestiges of the Lost Cause Confederacy is a good place to start.