The killing of nine people in 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston by an avowed white supremacist who draped himself in the Confederate battle flag led to the removal of the banner from official display by state government. Even some of the most ardent supporters of the flag agreed its use as a hate symbol made it no longer appropriate to display the flag at the Statehouse.
Now hate groups show up in Charlottesville, Virginia, to march, using preservation of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as their "cause." Violence erupts and the backlash leads to more calls to remove statues, monuments and memorials, particularly those associated with the Confederacy.
Does that mean the statue of Lee and other historical markers around the South and the nation must go because they are being characterized as a political statement and have been hijacked by hate groups whose agenda has nothing to do with preserving history?
The issue of historical markers and statues of Confederate figures -- and Americans before and after -- is not a fringe issue. Reactionary actions based on incidents or even the political norms and beliefs of the day should not drive our treatment of history.
The people of bygone days were Americans and terrible wars were fought to ensure such. The Revolution made us America and the Civil War ensured we would remain the United States of America.
Around the country there are monuments to people of those centuries and struggles. These are people who lived in different times with different standards, policies and norms.
While context is needed, it's hard to come by. Inevitably people view things in terms of standards under which we live today. That changes how they view history but should not change our commitment to preserve history.
Tearing down statues, monuments and memorials to Civil War figures -- or those from the Revolution -- because they owned slaves or fought for the South in the Civil War is shortsighted as a civilization.
Carried to the extreme, which appears to be the course being advocated, that could mean removal of monuments such as the memorials to Jefferson and Washington in the nation's capital.
Consider the reaction in this country to atrocities such as the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan or ISIS’ destruction of religious shrines and other historical sites that do not fit with its religious doctrine. And should ISIS ever gain control of areas in Egypt that are home to the great monuments such as the pyramids, the extremists would destroy those too.
In America, is Mount Rushmore next? The images of four presidents are carved there. Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.
Even Abraham Lincoln’s approach to slavery can be questioned. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”
Do we remove Lincoln, too, from Mount Rushmore?
As much as some monuments, memorials, building names and other fixtures mark history that is hard to accept in the eyes of the 21st century, they are part of history. In South Carolina, the initial compromise that removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome in 2000 also led to approval of a law protecting historical markers.
As much as the law is subject to challenge or change, it has become apparent there is a need for it. The push to remove anything and everything associated with the Confederacy has grown to include selectively removing history associated with presidents from the early days of America, including South Carolina-born Andrew Jackson, and to much-later figures such as World War I’s Woodrow Wilson.
Monuments, Confederate and other, are a part of history – the good and the bad chapters. The push to remove them is a mistake and will be regretted.