While there is a lot of discussion these days about statues in the public square, it is important to note that taking down Confederate statues does not actually erase history. Their very presence in prominent public locations effectively dilutes the history of the North’s victory over the South and the fight to save the United States of America.
History is still to be found in books, archives and museums. These statues, many of them erected between the 1890s and the 1950s, were intended to support the political, not historical, agenda of that time: segregation. Indeed, the more difficult work in dismantling the legacy of slavery will involve ending the byproducts of slavery, such as mass incarceration and educational inequalities for children of color.
Which statues to remove, and how?
Moving forward, here are six things to consider:
►All statues are not on equal footing. In general, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers, notwithstanding their flaws, united the nation whereas the Confederates divided the nation. Abolitionists like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman represent the best of who we are today. This makes them and the Founding Fathers off-limits, in my view, while the Confederate statues should be fair game for removal.
Billboards for racism: Let's take down Confederate statues the right way
►Americans must use democratic channels to bring Confederate statues down. If we believe in democracy, we have to practice it. Also, tearing them down may provide a distraction to those who will claim that protesters are simply creating chaos. Protest is important — but those who want to make their voices heard should also write and call the authorities — let them know these monuments don’t represent your community now. By the same token, I recommend that public officials hold town hall meetings to see if community members can come to some consensus as to whether they stay or go, or whether additional perspectives should be added to these sites.
► Are we the UNITED States or the DIVIDED states of America? We have to decide once and for all whether we want to continue to glorify the division that the Confederate monuments represent or the unity that we enjoy now as one country.
► Honor their service, but not their goals. For those with Confederate soldiers in their ancestry: honor their service as veterans, but acknowledge that on the question of slavery they were wrong — and work towards reconciliation in your communities and the nation at large.
From the Editorial Board: Remove Confederate monuments to America's original sin of slavery
► Tear down systemic racism brick by brick. Do not settle for the symbolic act of taking down statues. If all of the 1,800 or so Confederate memorials and statues came down tomorrow, systemic racism in housing, education and health care, and problems in the criminal justice system, would still exist. Reparations are still needed. It is up to all of us to do the work to bring about change from the top down and the bottom up.
► Even Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee thought it best to move on. In an article in 1869, we see Lee himself declining an invitation to join officers on the battlefield of Gettysburg to mark troop positions. He said it would be wiser “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.” His words.
Honor forgotten abolitionist heroes
Finally, cities and towns with these statues might also look into relocating most to museums and think about the benefits of replacing them with statues and memorials of people who made a clear and unequivocal contribution to uniting America. Why not consider adding heroes like Harriet Tubman, William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs or Gerrit Smith?
Some of these names don't sound familiar? That is exactly why we need statues and memorials to celebrate those who fought for freedom and equality for all.
Anne C. Bailey, professor of history at Binghamton University in New York, is director of the university's Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity and the author of the book "The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History." Follow her on Twitter: @annebailey63
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Confederate statues: Which to remove, how to do it, who to honor instead