The incident on the campus of the University of Virginia shows that confederate monuments are a very divisive issue. It also speaks volumes of us as a people, when we can rally around the solar eclipse, but are divided on the relevance of Confederate monuments and related symbols.
The question we need to ask is — do Confederate monuments have any historical significance or are they emblems of white superiority? It is estimated that 80 percent of the monuments were erected decades after the Civil War ended. This calls into question their historical significance, and gives credence to those who believe the monuments perpetuate the myth of the white superiority.
With respect to preserving confederate monuments in Alabama, the 2017 House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation called the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. It was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Mack Butler and in the Senate by Gerald Allen.
The act prevents local governments in any city or county from moving or renaming historic buildings and monuments that are 40 years and older. It seems that this legislation was in response to an ordinance the Birmingham City Council was considering to remove the Linn Park Memorial monument.
To prevent a repeat of the incident in Charlottesville from having in Birmingham, the city council decided to cover the monument.
The August 17th issue of the Montgomery Advertiser reported that the Attorney General of Alabama, Steve Marshall, has sued the city for violating the Memorial Preservation Act. Additionally, he is asking a Jefferson County Circuit judge to fine the City Council $25,000 each day the monument is obscured. It is very unlikely the judge will do so, because he has not ruled on the order which Birmingham has violated.
This could be construed as grandstanding by the Attorney General. A reasonable person could perceive his action as political, since he is certain to run for a full term in next year’s state election. It is worth mentioning that Alabama has approximately 170 confederate monuments.
On the issue of symbols, let me cite an example of this. For decades, one of the fraternities on the campus of Auburn University had what they called “the old south parade.” This activity was held every April. It was depicting what happened during slavery.
In the enactment, the upper body of a white male student was painted black, with a chain placed around his neck. This was supposed to be a slave. Another white student would lead him by the chain from the fraternity house on North College Street, up the street towards Toomer’s Corner and back to the fraternity house.
The appalling thing was that the previous administrations at Auburn University allowed the parade to be held each year. When Dr. William Muse became president of Auburn University, in the early 1990’s, the black faculty convinced him that the parade was in poor taste and was counterproductive to moving the university into the 21st century.
He agreed with us and cancelled the parade. I am sure some members of the Board of Trustees did not agree with his decision and were angered by it. At that time, all the members of the Board of Trustees were white men.
Incidents such as this conjure up memories of slavery and oppression. It is fair to say that many whites do not believe the Confederate monuments have any historical significance. It has been reported that later this year, a group called Sons of the Confederate Veterans is planning to erect a monument not far from Montgomery. This appears to be déjà vu all over again.
The U.S is a mosaic — a nation with people of different colors, races, and creeds. This suggests that no race or ethnic group is superior to another. Unfortunately, some whites believe this.
Most African Americans believe Confederate monuments and related symbols have little to do with heritage and more to do with relegating them to second-class citizenship. Lest some people forget, we are all created in the image of God. The Apostle James reminds us that God is no respecter of persons.
Dr. Noel A.D. Thompson is a political scientist who now teaches at Tuskegee University after many years as a professor at Auburn University.