San Antonio vs. Confederate symbols?

by Josephine Van Houten

Following the deadly protest in August to keep a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, all eyes have turned to Confederate symbols throughout the country. Yet, the debate over whether to remove these statues and rename streets did not begin with this incident; it has been a discussion for years. Closer to home, last week, the statue of a Confederate soldier in Travis Park in San Antonio,Texas was removed quietly during the night after the City Council voted 10-1 on Aug. 31 to remove it.

The argument against removing Confederate statues centers upon southern heritage, pride, and the dangers of repeating history. But others have argued that statues in parks in front of courthouses and other public spaces should reflect broad consensus of the country in present day. How do these statues fit into American culture in the present, and “to what degree [will we] allow symbols of white supremacy in our public spaces.”?

The intent of these statues is an important point in question. Defenders of the statues argue that the leaders of the Confederacy deserve to be honored for dying for what they believed in. For example, the Confederate monument in Travis Park honored soldiers who fought to the death for what they believed in. Yet, it is important to remember what exactly the Confederacy was fighting for: slavery and white supremacy.

Should we honor people who fought to continue slavery and deepen white supremacy? Absolutely not. Slavery and white supremacy are contrary to the values Americans profess, although they are unfortunately not contrary to our country’s foundations or actions. In fact, this is the crucial distinction between statues of our forefathers and Confederate leaders — the statues of Confederate leaders were erected for the sole purpose of honoring the Confederacy and what it stood for.

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The United States’ founding fathers did in fact own slaves, however they are honored in spite of it rather than because of it. Further, the American public is quick to condemn the white supremacy of our forefathers, while those who support Confederate statues do not always condemn the racism and oppression that Confederate leaders fought for. Symbols that still paint Confederate soldiers in a glorified light by default paint the same picture of white supremacy. Perhaps that is why hate groups such as the KKK have used these statues as rally points – they believe that these statues validify their beliefs of white supremacy and the continuation of it today.

However, when we look at the dates of Confederate monument and statue building, the motivation behind these statues seems even more tainted. As the graphic here demonstrates, the majority of Confederate statues were not built until decades after the Civil War (1861-1865). In fact, construction spiked during the era when the KKK was prevalent and the “Lost Cause” myth which attempted to revise the history of the South during the Civil War and spread the idea that the main reason for secession was states’ rights rather than the preservation of slavery. Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans argued that symbols of the Confederacy “celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.” The monument in San Antonio, erected in 1900 during the spread of the Lost Cause myth honoring the soldiers, was no exception.

Another point to consider is the placement of these statues. On one of the largest slave auctioning markets in the South, the statues of two Confederate leaders: John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge were erected. In a place where a plaque of remembrance and acknowledgement of what happened in the area belongs, Confederate members and their ideals were quite literally put on a pedestal. Whether these placements were intentional or not, a large amount of monuments are placed in spaces where slaves were sold. The motivation is clear, placing Confederate memorials in the space where slaves were once sold as a part of the transatlantic slave trade is a reminder of the power that whites had over blacks and were meant to strike fear into that community once again. It also begs a question: why are there no monuments in the U.S. to commemorate the immeasurable suffering in the transatlantic slave trade?

Most of the other memorials were placed in parks or in front of courthouses. This placement in front of courthouses is simply inappropriate. Confederate ideals are not in accord with the state of our Constitution and give the incorrect idea that Confederate ideals, namingly white supremacy, still influence our courts to this day. The only statue that should sway our courts and be placed outside as a reminder is the statue of Lady Justice. As Briscoe Center assistant director Ben Wright said, “It’s a funny thing about statues. They stand on plinths, but there are really cultural foundations which hold them up. And that cultural foundation shifts.” The same can be said about parks: the cultural foundations which once supported these monuments have changed and they do not belong in public spaces without the correct explanation of the Confederacy, including the history of slavery and the oppression of colored peoples.

Should these statues be destroyed? Certainly not: Symbols of the Confederacy help us remember a very sad part of American history. However, they belong in museums or educational non-profits that are dedicated to placing artifacts into the context of history. Monuments and statues should reflect the changes of American culture. This was not the first confederate symbol to be removed in San Antonio or Texas, and it should not be the last. We must remember the past, but we can live in it no longer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.

Josephine Van Houten is a sophomore International Studies and Computer Science double major, and Managing Editor of The Contemporary.  She is the PR chair of the International Humanitarian Crisis Initiative, and in her free time she enjoys dancing and traveling.

The cover photo above was taken of Travis Park in San Antonio by Michael Marks of the San Antonio Current. Used with permission.

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