American Historical Association's Excellent Statement on Confederate Monuments

I really like this statement from the AHA on Confederate monuments. I hope it is widely disseminated.  Below is the introduction followed by the statement.

AHA Statement on Confederate Monuments (August 2017)

The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, have re-ignited debate about the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces, as well as related conversations about the role of Confederate, neo-Nazi, and white suprem

Jud McCranie - Creative Commons Confederate memorial statue, Statesboro, Georgia, U.S
Jud McCranie – Creative Commons
Confederate memorial statue, Statesboro, Georgia, U.S

acist imagery in American political culture. Historians have been a vocal presence in these discussions, and the American Historical Association is compiling an ongoing bibliography of the diverse perspectives of AHA members.
The AHA has also released the following statement, approved by AHA Council August 28, 2017, about the role of history and historians in these public conversations. Rather than seeking to provide definitive answers to the questions posed by individual monuments, the AHA emphasizes the imperative of understanding historical context in any consideration of removing or recontextualizing monuments, or renaming public spaces.
The American Historical Association welcomes the emerging national debate about Confederate monuments. Much of this public statuary was erected without such conversations, and without any public decision-making process. Across the country, communities face decisions about the disposition of monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of public spaces and buildings. These decisions require not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments were built and spaces named, but also an understanding of what history is and why it matters to public culture.
President Donald Trump was correct in his tweet of August 16: “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” That is a good beginning, because to learn from history, one must first learn what actually happened in the past. Debates over removal of monuments should consider chronology and other evidence that provide context for why an individual or event has been commemorated. Knowledge of such facts enables debate that learns “from history.”
Equally important is awareness of what we mean by “history.” History comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces.
Understanding the specific historical context of Confederate monuments in America is imperative to informed public debate. Historians who specialize in this period have done careful and nuanced research to understand and explain this context. Drawing on their expertise enables us to assess the original intentions of those who erected the monuments, and how the monuments have functioned as symbols over time. The bulk of the monument building took place not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but from the close of the 19th century into the second decade of the 20th. Commemorating not just the Confederacy but also the “Redemption” of the South after Reconstruction, this enterprise was part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South. Memorials to the Confederacy were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life. A reprise of commemoration during the mid-20th century coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and included a wave of renaming and the popularization of the Confederate flag as a political symbol. Events in Charlottesville and elsewhere indicate that these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.
To remove such monuments is neither to “change” history nor “erase” it. What changes with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor. Historians and others will continue to disagree about the meanings and implications of events and the appropriate commemoration of those events. The AHA encourages such discussions in publications, in other venues of scholarship and teaching, and more broadly in public culture; historical scholarship itself is a conversation rooted in evidence and disciplinary standards. We urge communities faced with decisions about monuments to draw on the expertise of historians both for understanding the facts and chronology underlying such monuments and for deriving interpretive conclusions based on evidence. Indeed, any governmental unit, at any level, may request from the AHA a historian to provide consultation. We expect to be able to fill any such request.
We also encourage communities to remember that all memorials remain artifacts of their time and place. They should be preserved, just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue. Prior to removal they should be photographed and measured in their original contexts. These documents should accompany the memorials as part of the historical record. Americans can also learn from other countries’ approaches to these difficult issues, such as Coronation Park in Delhi, India, and Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary.
Decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals and officials who have no other major historical accomplishment does not necessarily create a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents, or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years. George Washington owned enslaved people, but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. There is no logical equivalence between the builders and protectors of a nation—however imperfect—and the men who sought to sunder that nation in the name of slavery. There will be, and should be, debate about other people and events honored in our civic spaces. And precedents do matter. But so does historical specificity, and in this case the invocation of flawed analogies should not derail legitimate policy conversation.
Nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without anything resembling a democratic process. Regardless of their representation in the actual population in any given constituency, African Americans had no voice and no opportunity to raise questions about the purposes or likely impact of the honor accorded to the builders of the Confederate States of America. The American Historical Association recommends that it’s time to reconsider these decisions.

To me, this strikes all the right notes. Monument removal doesn’t erase history. There is no meaningful slippery slope argument to be made when the question before the house is: Should we commemorate the Confederacy? Those who support leaving those monuments in place need to answer that question before addressing any others.
I have called on Christians to take the lead in placing those monuments in museums or mothballs.
Hat tip to historian John Fea for publishing this statement.

David Barton Likens Confederate Statues to Holocaust Ovens

David Barton
David Barton

In an appearance on Friday’s Joe Pags (Joe Pagliarulo) radio show, self-styled historian and Republican strategist David Barton invoked the existence of Nazi ovens and Gestapo headquarters in Germany as analogous to the existence of Confederate monuments in the U.S. You can listen to the podcast here (within the first 10 minutes). A transcript is below:

We’re looking at taking Confederate monuments down, and by the way, from a historical standpoint, if you know your history those monuments don’t scare you. If you know your history in Germany, the fact that you have ovens where the Holocaust occurred. The fact that you have Gestapo headquarters that are now mu – that’s not a problem because you know it’s wrong. And because you know it’s wrong, you can teach the next generation and that’s why you’ll find that Germans are particularly sensitive toward neo-Nazi movements arising in Germany. They don’t tolerate it.  So even though they’re there, they don’t – and so you can do that with history. In Israel, they got great kings like David, but you know what, they’ve also got a monument to Absalom, who was a (unintelligible). They’ve also got a street named after Ahab who was a lousy king. But that helps them know the good, the bad, the ugly.
So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.

Barton’s Faulty Reasoning

Tributes to the Confederacy aren’t necessarily scary; they are offensive. The analogy Barton attempts to make is bizarre. The ovens and Gestapo headquarters were not preserved by the German government as tributes to the Nazis. Confederate statues are tributes erected many years after the events of the Civil War took place. They were erected to elevate the image of the Confederacy. What the Germans kept was not to elevate the image of the Nazis but to demonstrate the evil. The Confederate symbols and monuments which are being targeted were not erected to show how bad the Confederacy was.
For Barton’s analogy to make sense, there would need to be a movement to bulldoze over the battlefields and other historical locations. I don’t know of any efforts to do this and the conversation between Barton and Pagliarulo didn’t touch on any such movement. Removing monuments placed to sanitize the image of the Confederacy isn’t in that category.
Barton came close to making sense when he accurately said the Germans are sensitive to neo-Nazi elements. In fact, Holocaust denial is a criminal offense as is displaying Nazi symbols. If we take that German example and translate it to the U.S., it would suggest that we should be very sensitive about neo-Confederate elements, such as white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. It would suggest that we should not build tributes to the Confederacy and remove the tributes already in place. If Germany could teach us anything, it would be that those monuments should never have been erected in the first place.
About the Gestapo headquarters: Barton seemed to be about to say that the headquarters was a museum. However, those facilities were destroyed after the war. More recently, a museum dedicated to showing the horror of Nazi institutions was built. Again, what the Germans built was not a tribute to Nazism, but what is called the Topography of Terror Documentation Center.  I don’t believe any of the Confederate monuments at issue document the horrors of slavery or the Jim Crow laws which followed.

Barton and Pags Real Target: The Democrats

I think the reason Barton has such a hard time with this issue is because he really wants to make Democrats look bad. He really wants people to understand that the Democrats favored slavery and were behind the KKK. Barton said:

So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.
When Landrieu the Governor or the Mayor of New Orleans takes down 4 Confederate monuments, let’s point out that it’s a Democrat mayor taking down 4 Democrat heroes that were heroes in the South. Now would that change the narrative if people knew that today. You bet it would.
The racism narrative would change if, for example, people knew that Democrats openly acknowledged in Congressional hearings that yes, the Ku Klux Klan is our organization, that’s a Democrat arm. Who knows that today? We know so little about our own history that we can’t even tell the good from the bad anymore so we think we have to wipe it out. And does that mean if conservatives take over, we’re going to get rid of the FDR memorial because he was a progressive liberal? Or if liberals get it, were going to get rid of Calvin Coolidge’s home because he was a conservative Republican? Where does it stop at that point? But you don’t worry about it if you know history, but we just don’t know history today.

True, Southern Democrats were defenders of slavery. However, this fact is well known. Anyone who studies the Civil War even a little bit realizes that the party of Lincoln and emancipation was the GOP. However, it is now a Republican president who is defending what he calls the “beautiful statues and monuments.” The Democrats want to take the statues down. It doesn’t matter much that long dead Democrats were racists when the party of Lincoln has shifted to a defense of the Confederate symbols. Why would Republicans want to leave them up? It makes no sense to me.

Barton’s New Lost Cause

When Barry Goldwater failed to support the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to vote against Goldwater. Although African-American voters had been steadily moving Democrat for several years, Nixon got about one-third of the African-American vote in 1960. The turning point was Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act. The historical direction of the African-American vote isn’t about African-Americans not knowing the history of segregationist Southern Democrats, it is about the choices made by GOP leaders over the past 50 years.
Barton’s efforts to bolster Republicans by constantly reminding people about the Lost Cause Democrats is a new kind of Lost Cause. The failings of the modern Republican party are not going to be sanitized by reminders of the failings of the Southern Democrats of the past. If anything, it is admirable that modern Democrats want to make amends and, if possible, atone for the history of the party. Shouldn’t Democrats want to remove these symbols? And shouldn’t Republicans, members of the party of Lincoln, be cheering them on?
Barton referred to Mitch Landrieu, the Democrat mayor of New Orleans. Landrieu’s speech about removing the monuments makes a compelling case for his decision. The mayor spoke about history and pointed out that many of those monuments were attempts to change history.

So, let’s start with the facts. The historic record is clear. The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.
First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

Landrieu is correct. The monuments of Confederate heroes were not erected in New Orleans to warn against the errors of the Confederacy but to laud champions of white supremacy.  If the history of these monuments is known, it becomes even more clear why they need to be removed from a place of honor.

Barton’s Take on the KKK

Near the end of the broadcast, Barton brought up the KKK. Because the KKK targeted black and white Republicans, Barton minimizes the white supremacist nature of the KKK’s goals.

That’s when the Klan arose and by the way, the Klan did not arise to take out blacks, it’s stated purpose was to take out Republicans. That’s why if you look at lynchings all the way up until 1962, you have 3500 black lynchings, but 1300 white lynchings, so what you have is an organization going after Republicans. Not after blacks per se. It’s just at that time, any black in the South was a Republican. You couldn’t hang any whites, because some of them were Democrats.

The Klan arose to reestablish white supremacy in the South, not just to go after Republicans. Since Republicans at the time stood in the way of that goal, they were targeted by Klan violence.  Barton’s description has some truth to it, but he makes the history more about political party than race. For the most part, white Republicans were targeted if they helped African-Americans.
Barton’s lynching numbers are pretty accurate but a little misleading in the way he uses them. Some of those white lynchings were in Western states for reasons unrelated to white supremacy. As noted, whites who helped blacks were also targeted in the South, but the figures on white lynchings includes people who were killed as victims of frontier justice.

A Couple of White Guys on Slavery

One of the more surreal discussions happened near the end of the segment. Barton and Pagliarulo discussed slavery. For some reason, Barton thought it important to say that 43% of free blacks in South Carolina owned slaves. He added that the first slavery law “done in America provided for white slaves, Indian slaves, and black slaves. How come we don’t hear that slavery is a human issue not a race issue.”
Pagliarulo chimed in to say that the first slave owner in the U.S. was a black man – Anthony Johnson. He was one of the first but what difference does that make? What is the point of this discussion? Are these white guys trying to change the history of slavery in America to make it about something other than race?
I really don’t understand the point of highlighting the exceptions as if they were the rule. The reason we don’t hear that slavery was a human issue is because in America, it quickly became about race. The fact is slave laws evolved so that black slaves were treated differently than all others. Slavery in the United States was about race and by the time of the Civil War, the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, asserted the following about slavery and race:

MR. STEPHENS rose and spoke as follows:
Mr. Mayor, and Gentlemen of the Committee, and Fellow-Citizens:- . . . We are in the midst of one of the greatest epochs in our history. The last ninety days will mark one of the most memorable eras in the history of modern civilization. . . .
I was remarking, that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood. [Applause.]
This new constitution, or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. . . .
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. (emphasis added)

It is impossible to read Stephens’ remarks made on March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia and not come away with the crystal clear conclusion that slavery in the U.S. was about race. The white man Stephens said the proper state of the black man was to serve the white man. For Stephens, slavery was not a “human issue” but an issue of one race being better than another. In my opinion, any attempt to minimize that fact is an unhelpful expression of white privilege.

What Should Happen with the Monuments?

The thrust of the program was to defend the monuments. At the end of the show, the host Joe Pagliarulo said he believes local communities should decide what to do with them. As a matter of policy, I agree that the federal government should not intervene in those local decisions. However, I also call on Christians to lead the local charge to remove Confederate symbols which were erected as tributes to Confederate heroes or the Confederacy as a movement. Since the Confederacy was a tribute to the evil doctrine of racial superiority, monuments and symbols which respect and celebrate heroes of the Confederacy should have no place of honor in the public square.

Southern Baptist Leaders Contradict David Barton's Claim about Confederate Symbols

(UPDATED to include Russell Moore’s comments…)
The religious right’s favorite self-styled historian David Barton has come out in favor of leaving Confederate statues in public view, blaming “the left” for the push to remove them. According to an article in World Net Daily, Barton sees “the left” at work:

David Barton, a historian and author of “The Jefferson Lies,” said the crusade against Confederate monuments is simply an attempt by the left to erase history. He said even monuments that some might think are offensive can be used for a good purpose.

Barton then says the next target for the leftists are monuments to abortion foes and opponents of slavery.

Soon we’ll have to take down Susan B. Anthony statues because even though she fought for women’s suffrage, she was openly pro-life; and, in today’s women’s movement, no one can be a true woman unless she supports Planned Parenthood and abortion. And of course Harriet Tubman statues will be taken down, for even though she was a leading conductor on the Underground Railroad bringing slaves to freedom, she was also a huge advocate for the right to keep and bear arms. For modern civil rights advocates, guns are anathema, and no true civil rights advocate can be for guns!
We no longer look at heroes as people or as complex individuals; rather we now judge them solely by one issue, whatever that issue happens to be at the time. We are creating a culture where we believe we have a right not to be offended or even have our misconceptions challenged; and we’re willing to use coercion to keep ‘me’ from being offended, even if that offends ‘you.’ What offends us now is so routinely redefined that probably no statue now will survive more than a generation before it becomes offensive to someone who will demand its removal.

Here Barton reduces monuments to slavery as a mere “offense” as if a tribute to slavery was simply offensive to the fragile sensibilities of left leaning people. I certainly don’t consider Jefferson Davis to be a “hero,” complex or otherwise. Barton’s minimization of slavery as a mere offense is in itself offensive and insensitive and demonstrates the need to remove these tributes to slavery from their place of honor.

Opposition to the Monuments Comes from the Right and Left

Barton’s narrative about the source of opposition to the monuments is contradicted by a prominent New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, Jr. Rev. Luter is pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Luter is one of over 100 New Orleans area pastors who signed a letter supporting the removal of the statues.
Via Twitter, I asked Luter if he considered himself on “the left” or the right and he replied that he is “a part of the Right.” Also on the list of pastors supporting the removal of the statues is Rev. David Crosby, the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. Crosby was nominated for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency last year. Being in leadership in today’s Southern Baptist Convention does not strike me as an activity of those who populate “the left.”
President of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore told me he agrees with his New Orleans brethren:

I agree with Drs. Luter and Crosby. I’ve always said that we should not whitewash history in either direction, by denying that it happened or by commending what is not commendable. This was the position I took in regard to the flying of the Confederate flag and is applicable here too.

Finally, Barton again claims that Virginia state law made it “difficult, if not impossible” for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to free their slaves. This is a bogus claim. The 1782 law on manumission not only made it possible, but enabled many slave owners in Virginia to free their slaves. Washington did so at this death but Jefferson declined to free his slaves and even sent slave catchers to hunt down those who ran away from Monticello.
To sum up, some pastors on the list of New Orleans pastors who support the removal of the Confederate statues may be left leaning or centrists politically. However, as I have shown, at least some come from the political right. Clearly, Barton is wrong about the sources of opposition to the public display of symbols which celebrate the Confederacy. People across a wide spectrum favor removal of the statues to be placed in museums or other place where people can learn from history. As with so many issues, Barton spins a narrative he likes first without regard to all the facts.
The irony here is that it is Barton who is at work altering truth, whether it be about Virginia slave laws, or the source of opposition to Confederate symbols.