Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s removal of all Confederate monuments within the city — and Councilman Brandon Scott’s call for their destruction — are emotionally-charged reactions to the events in Charlottesville and without founding.
Yes, those events were terrible and unnecessary. One person was killed, and 19 others seriously wounded when a car crashed into a crowd of protesters. There is no denying that we have a serious problem in this country when it comes to race relations, and the incident in Charlottesville is indicative of that problem. The severity of the racial tensions seem to be worsening with each passing day. We are regularly treated to stories in the press that highlight the increasing tensions; however, calling for either the destruction or removal of such monuments, it is not the answer. White supremacist groups will continue to vehemently spew their hatred whether or not these monuments continue to stand — monuments which represent so much more than just one thing.
Yes, to many Americans these monuments represent the racial inequalities that have plagued this country for almost one and one half centuries. These monuments, however, are also representative of the fight for states’ rights, the fight for supremacy over what was seen as an overbearing federal government. That is the reason we fought a civil war and — of course — slavery was one of the major states’ rights issues; of that there is no question. Do we stick our heads in the proverbial sand, though, simply because something happens that was distasteful and not to our liking? That is not the way to solve a problem as deeply ingrained as the one we as a nation face today.
Monuments are erected as memorials to our shared history, and history always has components that we may not like, that we may not want to share, or that we may not even be proud of. That does not mean that we destroy it and pretend it didn’t happen. On the contrary, if we begin ignoring those events we don’t want to recall simply because they were, in-part, based on a racist ideology, then we are never going to be able to properly address nor correct the problem.
We learn from our past. History has the benefit of hindsight, which is always 20/20. We are able to see what our ancestors did right or wrong and learn from their errors. We have the power to right their wrongs and correct their mistakes. If we refuse, however, to learn from their mistakes, we are bound to make them again. One of my UB history professors once told me that “history doesn’t repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.” While we may not be repeating history, the recent racially-charged events and the renewed focus on these historical monuments have shown us that we are far from rectifying the racial issues that have been ingrained in our society for hundreds of years.
Destroying monuments that we deem distasteful is not the solution to the multi-faceted racial dilemmas we continue to face in the United States. Rather, we should learn from the history that these monuments interpret and symbolize. We don’t have to like all of our history, but we need to at least acknowledge it and work to make ourselves better than we once were. These monuments do just that; they represent what we once were. However, it is up to us as Americans to better ourselves and grow from our past. Only then can we begin to address the racial problems and come together as one America.
Removing or destroying these monuments may make many people feel better in the short-term, but it won’t help to fix a problem that needs a long-term solution.
Joe Rosalski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an adjunct professor in History at Stevenson University and the Community College of Baltimore County. He is also Treasurer of SmarterBaltimoreGov, a grassroots movement to reduce the size of the Baltimore City Council to 10 members.