What do you think of first when you hear the name George Washington? Do think think of the founding father, general of the Continental Army, and the first President of the United States? Or do you think of a slaveholder who speaks of all men being created equal? In the United States, it seems as though more and more individuals previously considered critical in the formation of our nation are having their achievements nullified or their names erased, all because of their flaws and the imprint society of the time had on them. This is evidenced by a poll recently conducted by Prager University on the campus of George Washington University, where 70% of surveyed students interviewed were willing to change the name of the university.
A key example of the shift in public perception of historical figures is the ongoing battle over Faneuil Hall in Boston. In 1742, during the construction of the building, Peter Faneuil donated money to assist with the construction. However, Faneuil himself owned five slaves and participated in the slave trade. So, critics of the current name push for the renaming of the building (which Faneuil helped pay for) to be Crispus Attucks Hall. Attucks, one of the five individuals killed during the Boston Massacre, was chosen under the notion that he was a more important figure in the formation of our country. Not to say his death and the deaths of the others killed that night weren’t important catalysts in the moving forward of revolutionary ideas, but had the money not been put up by Faneuil to build the hall in the first place, there wouldn’t even be an argument to be had. This is just one of the many instances of such attempts to rename or remove statues and monuments named for people who lived in a different time period than we do currently and had different beliefs and ideologies than we have in modern times.
This is just the latest in a long string of attempts to rename or remove statues and memorials to people because of their personal beliefs or the time in which they lived. Many incidents leading up to the Faneuil Hall situation have involved statues of Confederate generals and other slaveholding individuals. The Left says that we shouldn’t be glorifying racists, while the Right claims it should be kept because it is history, whether good or bad. Why should we as high school students care?
As Americans, we have a unique history to remember and reflect upon, whether positive or negative, or peaceful or violent. We must recognize and commemorate our history with statues and memorials. If we don’t remember the past, then we will not only be doomed to repeat it, but also forget the origins and values that founded our great nation. In recent months, confederate statues and memorials pertaining to the Civil War era have been taken down because of the belief that the Confederacy and all things related to slavery are “racist” and “don’t belong in our society.” Even the statue of Thomas Jefferson at UVA, the school he founded, was shrouded because he was a “racist.” The problem with removing pieces of history in this manner is that the allegations do not always paint the full picture. They often ignore relevant information, and blindly accept revisionist interpretations of history. The monuments are an important reflection of history. Despite what happens, the contributions of people like Thomas Jefferson to our history and the growth of our country is immense. Figures like Jefferson shaped how our country functions today, gave us examples through history of situations to avoid, and provided a base for who we are as Americans. Jefferson, the third President of the United States and writer of the Declaration of Independence, also owned slaves in his home state of Virginia, but what many people are not aware of is that he tried to release his slaves, though he couldn’t under Virginia law. There are accusations that Jefferson seriously mistreated one of his slaves named Sally Hemmings and fathered all of her children, though there is only evidence possibly supporting the latter, as he freed at least four of her children. Similarly, George Washington freed his slaves after his death through a loophole in the law, which was closed before Jefferson died. If we remove statues and memorials of Confederate soldiers, then we will forget these people’s contributions to the American cause, even if their beliefs weren’t the same as ours are now.
While many justify the removal of such monuments with the saying, “the winners write the history books,” this shouldn’t apply here because when that happens the result is a biased and generally purposely forgetful point of view that either doesn’t tell the whole story or makes the other sides into something they weren’t. History as it is, with the goods and bads, is what provides us with a baseline of things to avoid in the future. Without many of these buildings and monuments people would be unaware of the differences in lifestyles of groups throughout history, only basing their knowledge on what they are taught without factoring in experience. We need to remember the beliefs and actions of people in the past, whether it is considered acceptable or not today, so that we can show our progression as a people, while also remembering our origins, virtues and faults.
Though today we consider the beliefs of most of the people of the era of slavery racist, we shouldn’t remove them from history as if the entire basis of the Civil War was slavery. The Civil War was largely because the Southern states felt that their rights were being curtailed as states and that the North, which had become industrialized, didn’t care about them. Slavery became a main focus of the war because the North made it one to prevent the British from supporting the South. Essentially, the Civil War was not all about slavery and that was not the only reason people joined or fought for the Confederacy.
The attention should be in the where the line is drawn. If we keep removing statues and memorials as our society changes, then there is no telling where it will stop. Now the target is the Civil War Era because it represents “racism,” but what will it be next? If we keep this up, we will be removing memorials similar to the 9/11 memorial in New York City because the terrorists were “misunderstood.” Then we’ll take down war memorials like the Wall of Honor that we put up because war is bad and we shouldn’t glorify it. While I don’t see any of these things happening at any point in the future, these examples bring a light to the spread of the issue. Where does this end? Where do we draw the line? Why can’t we agree that we need to keep our history alive and recognize all parts of our it, taking the good with the bad, and taking the time to understand and learn from the failures and downfalls on every side of an issue?
As time progresses, we have to recognize that things aren’t always what they seem.Taking what you learn from school and the news while also taking historical context into consideration is necessary to find the truth and formulate personal opinions. In the end, we as Americans need to come together to protect and embrace our history and recognize that everyone has differing opinions, and we should invite everyone to share their opinions, even if they do not conform to those of the majority, so that we can understand and discuss and possibly help others see the flaws in their logic, rather than name-calling, silencing, and protesting different opinions and removing important parts of our history.