There is a Confederate statue in downtown Searcy, right outside the White County Courthouse. It is there to commemorate “the memory of the Confederate soldiers of White County.”
According to the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), on April 16, 1917, a group of 61 Confederate veterans and their guests gathered for the monument’s dedication. A former U.S. Representative of Arkansas’ Second Congressional District named Stephen Brundidge spoke to the crowd that day, and, according to the CALS, said that, “slavery was not the real cause of the great strife between the North and South but it was the different views the two sections held of the constitution.”
This Confederate statue is one of hundreds that has survived the recent national push to take such statues down. The conversation surrounding these statues, like many others these days, seems to bring out strong passions from both sides and typically falls short of meaningful dialogue.
I think that these statues, and the current situation surrounding them, are very symbolic of the current state of our nation. We are a nation trying to heal but struggling to do so. We are trying to make sense of and correct the injustices of our past and finding that it is a slow, painful process.
One of the first steps in this healing process is truth-telling. That is where these statues become problematic. We must be honest about the true nature of the Confederacy. We must acknowledge that claims such as Brundidge’s are not historically accurate. While we can’t speak to the individual motives of every Confederate soldier, we know that as a collective state, the Confederacy was formed to preserve the institution of slavery.
In light of this fact, we should then ask ourselves: How should we treat this part of our nation’s history? This is where I think it is important to acknowledge the function that statues serve in our culture. I would suggest that statues are not how we remember history. The act of mere remembrance is neutral. We remember history in our books and museums. Statues are how we celebrate history. We build statues for people and movements that we admire. The question is not whether the Confederacy will be remembered, but how it will be remembered.
The way in which we remember something as historically significant as the Confederacy is very imortant for our nation’s healing process; it is also symbolic of what we wish our national identity to be. If we can unite on the common goal of racial healing, I think that would provide some beneficial context to this debate. That gives us a common goal. With this in mind, we should then ask ourselves: In what way can we remember the Confederacy that best assists this struggle for unity and reconciliation?
I acknowledge that there are many who interpret the symbolism of these statues differently. However, I would still suggest that our current practice of honoring the Confederacy through these statues, having considered the historical nature of its existence and purpose, only further arrests our nation’s healing process. I think the best road forward for us as a nation is one where we can tell the truth about our past and present in a way that fosters new bonds of unity for all Americans. Let’s get to building those bonds together.