Snapshots of a myth

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The five-story bronze of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, erected in 1890, with graffiti inspired by the murder of George Floyd. A temporary injunction has blocked Governor Ralph Northam from removing it.

Defenders of statues of Confederate generals and soldiers contend these monuments should not be removed, ever, because they are “history.”

Monuments have nothing to do with history. They are snapshots of a narrative. My favorite monument-narrative is the Lincoln Memorial. On its walls are chiseled the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, the two greatest speeches in American history, one of which includes the single greatest sentence in American history.*

But the Lincoln Memorial is not history. It is a way to tell a story, a story intrinsic to our national experience.

What statue of a Confederate general tells a story? None. All are monuments to a myth. Propaganda. We might put them in museums, along with a narrative:

This statue was mounted on a notable boulevard in order to further a myth about a “lost cause”: slavery, the practice of buying and selling human beings as commodities, part of an economic system, enforced by violence, that built this country over its first 250 years, and one that continued in a similar form for another 100 years. At the heart of the system was the production of cotton, financed by Northern banks and spun in Northern and English factories by exploited labor. At the heart of cotton was slavery.

The purpose of this statue, commissioned when leading white politicians and businessmen all over the country were members of the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations, was to remind the descendants of slaves that, despite the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, we honored those who fought to preserve slavery, to “put them in their place,” as was commonly said for a hundred years. It is a shameful era.

Finally, in the spring of 2020, We the People – prompted by an outpouring of rage over regular police killings of black people, generally the descendants of slaves – decided it was time to recognize what these symbols mean: white supremacy.

This exhibit is brought to you by Conglomerate Z, a successor corporation to the American slave trade.

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*”Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

 

 

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1 Response to Snapshots of a myth

  1. Arthur Curtis says:

    Bennett, thank you,I love the photograph.

    Like

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