Confederate statues on Hill eyed for removal

By Chris Davis in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-08-18 13:00

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday joined New Jersey Democrat Senator Cory Booker in calling for bipartisan support for an effort to remove statues lionizing supporters of slavery from the Capitol building.

"The Confederate statues in the halls of Congress have always been reprehensible," Pelosi said in a statement. "If Republicans are serious about rejecting white supremacy, I call on Speaker [Paul] Ryan to join Democrats to remove the Confederate statues from the Capitol immediately."

A spokesman for Ryan repeated earlier statements that replacement of statues was a decision that rested with the individual states, Politico reported.

US President Donald Trump bitingly decried the rising movement to pull down monuments to Confederate icons Thursday, declaring the nation is seeing "the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart".

In a burst of tweets on Thursday Trump renewed his criticism of efforts to remove memorials and tributes to the Civil War Confederacy.

"You can't change history, but you can learn from it," he tweeted. "Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish. ...

"Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"

In the wake of a far-right rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, communities and civic leaders across the US are wrestling with the conundrum: what to do with Confederate statues and memorials?

"I don't think they should remove them," Lisa Shelton, a tourist from Georgia visiting Capitol Hill told China Daily on Thursday. "They remind us of our history and where we came from.

"Taking things like that down just because a small group of people might all of a sudden today think it is trendy to be offended by it," she continued, "I don't think it makes any sense."

Since Monday, officials in Baltimore and Gainesville, Florida, have taken down statues while

another was torn from its pedestal by protesters in Durham, North Carolina.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the secretary of the Army to change the names of two streets (Lee and Jackson) at Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn, the New York Times reported. Both General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson, West Point graduates, had been stationed at the fort before the Civil War.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Thrusday posted a letter from Lee dated Aug 5, 1869, to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association declining an invitation to a meeting.

"I think it wiser," Lee wrote, "not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered."

In the South, the debate still rages between those nostalgic for the past and those who view the monuments as painful reminders of slavery.

There are more than 700 Confederate statues in the United States according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, most of them created in the 1910s and 1920s, decades after the Civil War ended. They were intended to reassert the power of white people, said Jonathan Leib, chair of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

"They represent acts of sedition against the United States of America and treason against the United State of America," he told Reuters on Wednesday.

But sympathies persist, as both lawmakers and citizens resist plans to remove them.

"I absolutely disagree with this sanitization of history," Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, said on radio on Tuesday.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation issued a statement in June weighing in on the issue of Confederate memorials in public spaces. While many of the monuments came hand-in-hand with Jim Crow enforcement, they are still "historically significant and essential to understanding a critical period of our nation's history."

Anna Lopez Brosche, city council president in Jacksonville, Florida, encouraged the removal of Confederate statues from public property on Monday and proposed placing them where they will be "historically contextualized."

In Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor William Bell ordered workers to hide a Confederate statue behind plywood boards, while the city challenges a state law banning the removal of such monuments.

In Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray has proposed removing statues from one city park, formerly the site of a slave auction block and whipping post.

"A slave whipping post isn't something we want up, just out in public without interpretation," said W. Fitzhugh Brundage, American History professor at the University of North Carolina. "But on the other hand, if you have it in the Smithsonian where people can see it and it can be properly interpreted, it's a valuable teaching tool."

Virginia writer Robert Selim said, "My favorite idea at the moment is to knock all of them over, crush their bases, and let them lie where they fall. They can still be used to teach history and represent the Confederacy."

Huanxin Zhao in Washington, Reuters, Associated Press contributed to this report.

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