Tell the Whole Truth

Lincoln Park: Ulysses S. Grant Monument

It is important to remember that many of our states once believed so strongly in their right to own people that they went to war against the United States of America to protect it. So, yes. I appreciate people who worry we might not remember our country’s heritage of racial violence without those monuments they are defending. We might accidentally forget, right? And if we do that, well, some modern-day CEO might convince folks that the idea of outright owning people was a good idea. Without those monuments, who knows what terrible things we might unleash back into the world?

I do, however, have a question. Or at least a point to ponder.

I mean, while we’re talking about it anyway. I mean. Maybe it’s just me, you know, but—having seen a few of these monuments—it seems to me that the history embedded inside them might be lacking a bit of nuance. I mean. Well … maybe this will come as a shock to you, but … I think we might have gotten something messed up.

I mean, I think that … um … that maybe … if you were to just walk up to one of these monuments cold turkey, you know? I mean. If you were to look at them without understanding the context of the Civil War I think it’s possible you might think those monuments were celebrating these Southern generals rather than holding them up as warnings against that history of racial violence we’re all so much against.


I mean. Seriously, I’m not making that up.

Try it yourself why don’t you?

Do your best to forget the whole war ever happened and then just walk up to one. Take it all in.

Do you see it now?

I mean, hellfire and Honest Abe, it’s almost like the people who made the statues wanted you to think that people siding against the United States of America were folks you’d want your kids to look up to. Like it was a good thing they chose to fight for the right to own other people.

I mean. When you see it that way, you almost understand why some folks would be all geared up to tear them sumbitches down, am I right?

I mean. Hell. I totally agree with them.

But, you know, I’m also down with the idea of trying to save that history we all worry about so much. So I’ve got a proposal that maybe we can all get together on and agree with.

Hang with me here.

I mean. It’s an idea anyway.

I mean. Since it’s so clear that removing our monuments would threaten to erase this part of our heritage, I suggest that rather than tear them sumbitches down, or even move them to a museum where no one would ever go to see them, let’s just add in the whole rest of it.

I mean. You know. Focus on it.

Rather than expunge the stories of these battlefields and generals, let’s spend some money and pay some artists to ensure the full history is told.

For example …

Let’s Represent the Situation:
Let’s spend a little tax money to commission the representation of a slave or a slave family, shackled and chained, or being whipped, or being used to farm the fields—whatever. Sure, this might be a little hard to stomach for the uninitiated, but it would make sure we can see General So and So in the historical light of the moment. This would be integrated directly with monument in question, positioned in such a fashion as to provide a proper visual cue to the intent of the general. In addition, we would commission the representation of on-lookers, smiling and gesturing their approval.

These would be accompanied by at least two plaques, one describing the military leader who decided to fight against the idea that all men (!) were created equal, and one describing the population that decided to honor this person who went to war with America.

The plaques should include the date when the original monument was commissioned and discuss the reasons why, some 50-100 years after the war, the decision was made to create a monument to this warrior who fought against the United States of America.

Also …

Let’s Represent the Stakes:
In addition, let’s use even more tax cash to commission a monument to the slaves who represented the economy of the south, and who created the bulk of the wealth that has been passed from white family member to white family in the aftermath. This should be placed in such a manner as to draw attention to the idea that this is what General So and So was defending—the idea that these people were the economy of the south, and that this fight was for the ability of a few businesspeople to live well at the expense of the many slaves they owned.

Plaques here could describe the GCP (Gross Confederate Product) these slaves created and relate how much of that GCP the slaves got to keep themselves. If there were space, additional information could represent how much of that GCP has flowed into modern day white society. That would be interesting.

I suppose that means I’ve got some work to do.

Moving on, though …

Let’s Represent the Cost:
A can’t-miss piece of this memorial should be a new monument we commission to represent the Union soldiers this man killed in his war with the United States of America. It’s important to remember that the Northern lives lost are what we mean when we say “freedom is not free.” A key part of this display could be a “family tree” where descendants could trace their lineage to family members General So and So killed while defending the right to own people.

Let’s Represent the Repercussions:
Also, to sit alongside these monuments to Southern generals, we should commission new monuments to highlight civil rights activists or other encounters that seem relevant to the location. Perhaps a depiction of Freedom Riders, or Children’s Crusaders, whoever. Black people, white people, members of the Underground Railroad. Whoever makes sense for the location.

It would be educational, after all, to know that the civil war did not actually resolve the root of the problem and that, a hundred and fifty years later, several of the core issues related to the conflict still reverberate through our society.

This lesson might then lead us to…

Let’s Represent the Moment:
Finally, in front of each monument, we could commission multiple versions of Fearless Girl and Fearless Boy standing together, flanked by a flagpole flying the flag of the United States of America.

It’s important to remember that we are still struggling with civil rights that include not only ethnicity, but go into gender, age, sexual orientation, disability and … well …

Displays here could describe issues that immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ and other people have faced just to get the vote, as well as the issues they face in order to keep it.

So, yeah…

You see it now, right?

Our heritage needs to be retained, after all. That I think we can agree on.

It’s got to be the whole thing, though, right?

We need to tell the whole truth.

Or, I suppose we could just tear the sumbitches down and be done with it.

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