Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Removal of Confederate Statues

As I sit here in my local Starbucks in Upstate New York, sipping a vanilla cappuccino, I think about how far removed I am from what goes on in other parts of the country. Here, we don't see protests or the tearing down of monuments; here, we don't see a plethora of vehicles or people bearing the Stars and Bars unless a big country act comes to the performing arts center. I'm not going to play the part of a keyboard warrior, but it is my responsibility as a historian to make sure the stories of our past do not go unrecognized, especially in times like these. So, I thought it would be appropriate to share the history of the Confederate statues, however briefly, and what they truly represent.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was founded in 1894 as a hereditary organization of Southern women. The UDC was founded to commemorate Confederate soldiers, and by doing this the organization would erect monuments and promote the Lost Cause movement (a myth where the Confederate cause was described as heroic and as a cause against great odds; a noble cause; a cause to uphold the Southern way of life; and a cause that would begin the white supremacy/white Southern nationalist "movements"). The aims of the UDC were to create a social network, memorialize the war, maintain a truthful record of the achievements of the Confederate veterans, and teaching history with a pro-Confederate bend to the next generation of children. The UDC was influenced by other women's groups who organized the burial of Confederate soldiers and established permanent Confederate cemeteries.

So where do the statues and the current controversies come into play? The UDC was extremely successful at raising money to build monuments, rebury Confederate dead in permanent cemeteries, influencing the content of history books in that era, and more. By the time World War I rolled around in the early 1900s, membership in the UDC had grown to 100,000 members.

Today, as we see the fall of Confederate statues, the UDC has denounced the actions of hate groups for using symbols of the Confederacy, but also continues to urge that the statues remain standing as a part of this shared American history.

As a young historian, I understand the ease with which we can look at the people of the past and superimpose our 21st century standards of morality, thoughts, and beliefs onto them. However, we must remember that the people of the past are dead and gone, and their actions in the 19th century did make a difference on the culture of America but others are trying to make a difference now.

What are your thoughts on the Confederate statue conundrum? Let me know in the comments!

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