In my last post I discussed the importance of telling a fuller story when it comes to displaying and engaging with confederate monuments. At the very least, accompanying information should answer basic questions about the monument’s own history. When was the monument built, by whom, and with what kinds of messages in mind? While contextualizing the monuments onsite may be suitable in some situations, on my view there are some cases where removal or relocation is more appropriate. Unfortunately Governor Kemp recently signed a bill that bans moving confederate monuments from prominent locations to museums or other places where this fuller story can more adequately be told.
One prominent location that lawmakers surely had in mind when drafting this legislation was Georgia’s own state capitol building. The site boasts several very prominent monuments to Confederate and Jim Crow era figures whose legacies are distorted or romanticized by this memorialization. Activists have petitioned for the removal of statues memorializing of the following men:
Confederate general John Brown Gordon: commanded half of General Lee’s civil war troops; stated that slavery was “morally, socially, and politically right;” was KKK leader for the state of Georgia during reconstruction; served as governor and as a US senator.
Another former governor Eugene Talmadge: linked by the FBI to the infamous Moore’s Ford lynchings; ousted UGA dean for attempting to integrate the university.
Georgia senator Richard B Russell Jr: dedicated his public service to staunch opposition to civil rights legislation. His statue is accompanied by a truncated, misleading quote that distorts the views and legacy of a man who is most notable for opposing equal rights.
Some might say that it is enough to add the facts to the statues and leave them in place so that people can learn from them. While I think that having these facts available is important, it is more appropriate to contextualize the monuments in an alternative location and removing the monuments from the site is warranted. Monuments are a way that we, as a society, tell each other what we value. The memorials to these men are located on the site of a building that fundamentally represents democracy in our state. To me it is an offensive location for the memorialization of men who were deeply, consistently, and sometimes violently, opposed to the equality that democracy requires. Leaving them in place tells the citizens of Georgia that we value, at best, false legacies and whitewashed history; at worst, the outright maintenance of white supremacy. Given the way things are currently going in Georgia politics, it appears to be the latter.
2 thoughts on “Monuments at Georgia’s State Capital”
I think you are aware that, in addition to our shared doctorates in philosophy, I have an M.A. in history. I’m very much in favor of contextualizing monuments, rather than removing them. There’s a lot to learn, and adding layers of lessons as time passes is akin to footnotes: in the best works, the footnotes are often the most important part.
There may be limit cases, but I can’t think of one I would accept offhand. Talmadge isn’t a man who deserves any special honor (the radio records of his election campaign are particularly ugly); but it is important for people to know that he was honored, all the same, and why, and why that was wrong. The prominence of the position draws attention to the lesson. Just because these questions of honor are so important, I would argue against relegating them to some dusty space traveled by few. Fight it in the clear.