There is an effort in America to sanitize this country’s history by removing images of figures who held slaves and advocated racism. But without monuments, the story of this nation becomes not only incomplete but also dangerous.
Someone very wise said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Without monuments, I fear that children will grow up not knowing what was faced and struggled against to make us great; neither will they understand what the abolitionists fought for or what it was that made a Frederick Douglass or a Martin Luther King Jr.
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If we forget history, black literature devoted to freedom and civil rights would have no relevance, and Americans could wind up committing again the unknown errors of an unknown past. Besides, if people wish to sanitize our history completely, they would have to take down memorials to slave owners such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and eradicate the images on our currency.
Slavery was a legal institution before the Civil War. Perhaps this is why the founding fathers’ memorials stand without widespread condemnation. But those who continued slavery are still an important topic of discussion in American history. For the sake of accuracy and for a foundation that supports the works of Harriet Tubman, Medgar Evers, Richard Wright and even Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, these images some wish to erase should be in the public’s eyes.
Sometimes I teach a university literary course on major African-American writers. These writers are obsessed with the Antebellum era, the Confederates, Jim Crow, civil rights and racism. Would the literature come alive more if I had images to illustrate the ideas? Would not the writers themes be more profound if I could point to visuals to help set the mood for a story about lynchings or the horrible situations that caused the writers to pick up their pens?
Butler E. Brewton