Sunday, August 13, 2017

History and Statuary

As a person who reads and studies history, and as a person who enjoys art and statuary, I am disturbed by the thought of destroying and/or removing statues due to history.  I tried to get started on this point last night, when writing about the protest and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.  But I decided I needed to write about the confrontation, and not what was, supposedly, the cause.  The purported reason for the Ku Klux Klan, and the "Unite the Right" groups congregation was to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee.  The Lee statue had been erected in 1923 in what was then named the Robert E Lee Park.  In the early 1970s, the name of the park was changed to Emancipation Park.
   The City of Charlottesville set up a committee several years ago to discuss the fate of what could be considered "divisional art," which included statues in the city.  The majority of members on this committee were African-American, and the committee had planned for them to be the majority, as it was decided those members could best decide what would be offensive to people who were black.  Two propositions were put forward for statues, plaques, and markers that might be deemed offensive to the black community: (1) to just remove the items that were deemed offensive and/or demeaning; or (2) to leave them in place with the viewpoints of several historians, both African-American and white, as to what the items represented, and explaining their parts in the history of this nation, and, particularly, in Virginia.  The committee voted to keep the statue of Robert E Lee; the elected City Council voted for it to be removed.  After the furor caused by the removal announcement, and the planned protest of yesterday; a judge granted an injunction that nothing should be done to, or with, the Lee statue until January 2018, when the City Council must, again, make a decision.
   Now, I am very definitely a white, or Caucasian, person.  I have very pale skin which freckles and burns.  I have light colored eyes.  I was born with red hair, which turned brown in my teens, and turned grey in my 20s.  My DNA results state that I am north European through and through.  I love history - but I was raised in the South and grounded in my Virginia roots.
   My friend for ten years, and room-mate for two years, is a woman of African-American descent.  He grandmother was a Louisiana Creole, and I have been able to trace parts of her family into the early 1800s, as slaves.  She has one DNA proven forebear, however, who was of French descent - and I have been able to trace that part of her family tree back to the late 1500s, to an area that is northwest France and southwest Switzerland.  I frequently ask her viewpoint on things - and especially regarding the removal of statues, in particular, this one of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville.
   This is one of the very few areas where Beatrice and I do not see eye to eye.  Of course, as far as I can trace back, my family has been free white people.  Beatrice's great-great-grandparents were all born into slavery in the southern United States.  Her father and Uncle served in the US military - her Uncle in the Army, and her father with the Tuskeegee Airmen.  My Aunt and Uncles served in the Army and the Navy.  She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado - me: Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and Virginia again.
   Beatrice believes that any statues of anyone who served in the Army or Navy of the Confederate States of America; or those who served in it's Congress or Administration in any way, should be removed and destroyed.  She believes that any person who owned slaves should not be depicted as statuary, or in art.  I do not believe that these statues or the people they represent should be revered, but I think that their statutes should be left in place.  To document the past.  To show what can happen when a country believes that slavery should be allowed.  There should be interpretive areas with information and short films that tell who the people were, why they made the decisions that they made, and what happened because of those decisions.
......  If we destroyed all statues and paintings of people who owned slaves throughout history, millions of pieces of great works of art would be destroyed. Slavery has existed in one form or another since the beginning of humanity's history.  Pharaohs had slaves. Romans had slaves. Vikings had slaves.  Any people who were strong enough, or clever enough, to conquer another people had slaves.   ....
    History happened.  History is history. Bad decisions have been made throughout the world in every era and in every country.  (Heck, the current Administration in the USA is a fantastic example of bad decisions!)  I think we need to learn from the mistakes made in the past.  I think people should be taught about choices and what happens when decisions, especially bad ones, are made and acted upon.  I don't think we should tear down statues that people believe might be hurtful.  The statue might represent everything that a single person completely and totally hates and vilifies - but it should remain standing to remind others what awful things can proceed when a man makes an incorrect decision....

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