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Peter’s Take: Time to Stop Honoring Civil War ‘Heroes’

by Peter Rousselot July 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm 2,019 0

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

What do Mitch McConnell and the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral have in common? They both want to stop the public veneration of Civil War “heroes.”

The Episcopal Dean concluded that two stained glass windows at the Cathedral–depicting the Confederate battle flag, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee–should be removed. The Dean explained:

While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent. There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community. We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought.

The Republican Senate leader concluded that a statue of Jefferson Davis, a native Kentuckian, should be removed from the state capitol in Kentucky.

What lessons should Virginia and Arlington draw from McConnell and the Dean?

Let’s stop treating Confederate leaders as revered heroes. Let’s remove their names from the commons by rebranding streets and schools. As long as we have to subliminally pay our dues to General Lee every time we go to work or go shopping, we will fail to understand slavery for the prolonged act of violence that it was. As for schools, what is the bigger lesson imparted to a child who attends schools that celebrate Confederate “heritage” with these names?

The right thing to do is for the appropriate Virginia authorities to rename Jefferson Davis and Lee Highways, and for the appropriate Arlington authorities (the School Board) to remove General Lee’s name from Washington-Lee HS.

But, every aspect of the American Civil war should remain wide open for discussion and debate in our:

  • educational institutions,
  • museums,
  • history books, and
  • civic life.

Moreover, let’s not let the politicians off the hook. Taking an image of a Confederate flag off a license plate or removing the name of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis from a major highway won’t suffice.

After the Charleston massacre and the high-profile wave of deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police officers across the country, there is no denying the persistence of institutional racism.

Our state lawmakers need to do their part by doing such things as reforming overly-restrictive voter ID laws. As they create new seats for students, our county leaders must close achievement gaps and re-balance school districts so that none of our schools remain intensely segregated.

CONCLUSION:

Let’s eliminate both the major symbols of racism and the lingering effects of racism.

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