Time for All of The Confederate Statues to Come Down

The president can’t tell the difference between George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Here’s the difference.

Protesters gather below a monument dedicated to Confederate Major John B. Castleman while demanding that it be removed from the public square in Louisville, Ky., August 14, 2017.REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

Confederate statues are a rallying point for today’s neo-Nazis and white separatists. President Trump confirmed this by making it a central point of his meltdown in the Trump Tower lobby earlier this week.

The difference between George Washington and Robert E. Lee is taught in elementary school history lessons. But here is some history that you weren’t taught: George Washington and his wife Martha Custis both came to their marriage owning enslaved people. As was common in those days, enslaved people from both sides of the family intermarried and children were born enslaved on the plantation. Washington did not allow the families of his enslaved people to be broken up. In his will, he requested some of his land be sold to fund training and emancipation for his enslaved people. The Custis family reneged on the provisions of his will after his death.

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Robert E. Lee was a relative of Martha Custis and, through inheritance, became the owner of a large plantation in Virginia near Washington, D.C. At the beginning of the Civil War, the aged senior general of our Army, General Scott, asked Lee to lead the Union Army. Lee declined and went back home to lead the Confederate Army. He was a brilliant general and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Union Army soldiers in well-led battles.

As casualties mounted, where to bury the dead soldiers became an issue. The Quartermaster General of the Army, General Meigs, decided to start burying people around a mansion in Virginia named Arlington. It was Lee’s home. He ordered burials to start around the house. He is reported to have said at the time, “I don’t know who is going to win this, but that bastard is not going to be able to come home.”

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At the end of the war, the Lee family sued the federal government for return of its land. It won, and the portion of Arlington that was not already used as a cemetery was given back to the Lee family. That land was housing a Freedman’s Village — a place where emancipated Black people were learning a trade. So the emancipated enslaved people were thrown out in favor of a traitor to our nation, on the altar of racism and bigotry.

Most of the statues honoring Confederate traitors were erected during the (Woodrow Wilson endorsed) Ku Klux Klan revival of the early 20th century (there were 3 million KKK members in the 1920s) and again during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s. They are monuments of resistance to Black liberation. Lee did not believe that there should be statues to honor Confederate soldiers. Please do not entertain any talk of “heritage” that does not include the “heritage” of the 55 percent of Black Americans who still live in the South.

Slavery is the “original sin” of our nation. The founders failed to overcome Southern planters’ financial interests at the beginning of our country (enslaved people were the top financial asset of Southern landowners). Instead of eliminating slavery, as Benjamin Franklin advocated for, we had to fight the Civil War to end it. Proportional to today’s population, 3 million people died in that war.

Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams — all flawed men, as we are all flawed. But there is a vast difference between monuments to the founders of our country and monuments to people who rebelled against our country. Our president knows the difference; we all do. He is afraid of losing the core of his support — the kind of people who use the n-word at home.

Our Constitution is the longest-lived constitution in known human history. This country has liberated billions of people. We have never been perfect; we will never be perfect.  But there is a reason why our GDP per capita is the leader in the world — human rights. We must fight to become better, every day.

The mayor of Baltimore did it right — take the statues down in the middle of the night without fanfare. What I wish she also did was melt them down so they can never be used as a rallying point for hate.

We saw in Charlottesville the power of symbols and the power of hate. It is time for all good Americans to rally to the cause of eliminating those symbols — all statues, or buildings named for confederate “heroes,” street names — they all have to go. No German Jewish child has to go to Hitler High School. I’ve read that a Russian general used the top of Hitler’s skull as an ashtray — until he smashed it into dust, knowing that the artifact had immense power among the people that caused his countrymen millions of untold deaths.

President Trump must go as well. We need to hold the Republican Party responsible for everything that happens after today. I’m all in favor of saying “we all make mistakes” and moving on. But now that those mistakes are as clear as day, it is time to rectify them. Trump must go, and the Republicans are responsible for making this happen. Tell us there was a medical emergency and he must resign to get treatment. Mint a gold medal the size of a manhole cover with “Best president ever” on it and give him a photoshopped picture of his face on Mount Rushmore. Whatever it takes. Get rid of him. Now. The planet doesn’t have time for Mueller to finish his job.

And let’s be very clear, those standing with him are guilty from this point on.

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  • along with former presidents who owned slaves and endorsed the disenfranchisement of American people who weren’t White…

    • Then you make their point for them. You’re going to change the name of Washington DC, the State of Washington? The Washington Monument, the Jefferson Monument?
      Stick with the civil war monuments, and we win.

    • We celebrate the former Presidents who owned slaves in spite of their sins. The so-called Confederate “heroes” were being honored because of their sins. Polar difference.

  • Greg Thrasher

    I loathe evil in all of its existence. I do not separate out slave owners in this context.

    I am human and I do not own another human being.

    I reject the compromise offered here by Luke … All memorials and statues which honor Confederates and Slave Owners in the public domain must come down and relocated to museums and other locations

    My ancestors deserve this respect in America


    Greg Thrasher
    Plane Ideas
    Alternative Think Tank

  • As a corporate buyer and supplier diversity program manager, I’d be happy to offer my services pro bono to help any township or municipality find black owned businesses to hire to take them down.

  • What is so disturbing is “anyone” that voted for or likes Trump is falling for this failure of a decent human being. Like they have complete blinders on. I have been so very upset about Charlottesville all week as I am sure much of America is. Other than the media, what can we do? These people that “follow him” think that what he “spews” is fine and our argument of tolerance, respect, and inclusiveness is completely unfounded. How do these people work, shop, go to church or school, get gas, vacation, “breathe”, with hate on their breath when they wake up in the morning? The hate is just unbelievable coming from the person in our country we are supposed to most admire. This has to end!

  • Luke I agree with much of what you wrote. The problem is there are extreme people out there that do what monuments to Washington and Jefferson taken down. The problem is where do you stop and draw the line? Once you erode a liberty, it never comes back. Liberty is for all, not just one color or gender. I hate what those Nazi’s were marching for, but I would fight for their right to march. You can’t just pick and choose who has freedom and who doesn’t.

    • Slavery was central to our country’s entire history. 300 years of brutal oppression that has not ended (if you haven’t read “Chokehold”, you should). Maybe when law enforcement, wealth, education and representation is equal, we can have a discussion on equal footing. Until then, I respect the opinions of our Black American community on this point. It is their injury, not ours.

      The liberty we all seek must be liberty for all. The statue isn’t that important that it needs to remain over the collective liberty (absence of oppression) of our Black citizens to walk the streets without seeing the physical representation of their oppression.

      • Thank you for the comments, emphasizing equity over equality. To be on the same playing field, we must ensure equity for the Black community.

    • I believe in freedom of speech, but free speech and having 20 guns on your person to intimidate during your free speech is wrong. Whenever these hate groups show up, they show up with many more guns than the police who are charged to keep the peace. When issuing permits they should require no guns be allowed. I wonder how successful their march would be at that point?

  • Well said Luke and couldn’t agree with your last paragraph more. The most telling moments for me, though subtle, from Tuesday’s press conference came after Lame Duck L’orange finished his rant. As he was walking through the lobby he stopped and said to no one in particular, though was aware the press was still taping, something to the affect “you know I own a house in Charlottesville ” (read: let me remind you how rich I am/I’m affected by this too) . ” I own one of the largest wineries (lie, it’s considered to be a small winery) in the United States there” (read: I’m a rich, white plantation owner in the south). In this race war I hope there are no more dead bodies to bury but I do hope Trump can never come back home, at least not anywhere in the US.

    • Thank you Mark.

      Apparently the winery is a name lease deal only. He doesn’t own it – that pathetic foul small charlatan can’t help himself. He’s a con artist through and through.

      Now here’s something for the gutless republicans (and gutless/clueless Pelosi and Schumer): what would you think if trump came on the emergency broadcast system and said “I have been told that there is a massive missle launch coming our way and I have ordered immediate retaliation with all of our nuclear arsenal”?

      WHAT THEN?

    • Charity Dell

      LAME DUCK L’ORANGE….ROTFLOL:-) Coming soon to a theater near you…

  • Kevin Canessa

    Bravo, Luke. It could not have been put any better than you just did here. I hope the GOP is listening. I won’t be holding my breath, however.

  • Luke,
    Thanks for amplifying on this issue! You missed one of Trump’s own rants which is a clear distinctions between Lee and Washington. Washington won his war, Lee lost his. Like Trump keeps blasting “I won the election….get over it”, so should these people unless they are looking to renew a battle (which scares the crap out of me).
    …Tom B (white guy)

  • Well we all know the guy is a complete idiot so we shouldn’t be surprised by anything that he says or believes at this point right? It’s so sad to hear coming from the nations top representative so we all look stupid too but what Dan we do now?? The electoral college allowed it to happen.

  • Bottom Line Up Front: Trump isn’t successfully introducing and most importantly accomplishing anything in terms of legislation favoring conservatism. Resources are being squandered defending his unconventional political rhetoric and actions instead of shrinking the government for American citizens and increasing it for corporations.

    I said it once before on this site. Republicans and Democrats will work together to get Trump out of office. My words were impeach. Impeach being clearly out of reach. I believe both parties will work together behind the scenes for him to resign. I’m telling everyone on here it’s happening. Trust me. If I’m wrong, then I’ll openly admit it eating crow.

    Everyone Trump isn’t completing his 4 year term. On the small slither he’s able to do a full term, he’s not getting reelected.

    All of what we see has taken place within a span of 9 months. And for many it feels like 2 years. There’s not enough patience from the GOP to put up with Trump.

    • Agree with Lee – “Trump isn’t successfully introducing and most importantly accomplishing anything in terms of legislation favoring conservatism. Resources are being squandered defending his unconventional political rhetoric and actions instead of shrinking the government for American citizens.” Like many, like most(?), I believe that the government that governs least governs best. Like Lee, I’m in favor of, and expecting, Trump’s resignation, I expect the resulting chastened President Pence and split, gridlocked Congress will accomplish little, or nothing, and, for me and my rural family, Washington doing nothing is usually the best we can hope for.

    • I almost always vote for a second term for Presidents with the thinking that whatever they started in their first four years hasn’t had the chance to come to fruition yet; but I sure as hell won’t be voting for Trump. Didn’t vote for him the first time (3rd party voter). Really hope the Democrats or some other party (don’t really care who) can come up with a viable candidate. So far, I’m not seeing anyone come into the limelight.

  • “the kind of people who use the n-word at home”

    Are we talking bigots, or hip hop “artists” and everyday urban American blacks?

    • No, white people. Black artists have taken that word back from white people. I don’t hear that word used by Black people I know. It was commonly used by white people, especially in the South.

      The kind of white people who still like to use that word are frustrated by having to only use that word at home. They liked to use it in public, because it’s caustically humiliating.

      They express their frustration by continuing to support the charlatan, even though he hasn’t accomplished anything but making himself feared as an unstable bigot who likes to promote war crimes when he’s not backing up David Duke’s wish list or the tending to needs of his Russian overlords.

  • I can understand why some want all monuments to slaveholders torn down. I don’t share that view, but — certainly — respect it. I read recently that Washington felt a great sense of guilt and remorse about being a life-long slaveholder and had a provision in his Will freeing his slaves. However, his Wife’s side of the family — the Custers — opposed that provision and prevented it from being implemented. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson willed that his slaves be freed upon his death, and they were. I do believe that it is time to consign the relics of our inglorious past — the Confederate monuments that celebrate so-called “heroes” of the CSA — to museums, Confederate cemeteries and other such places, if possible; if not, they should be destroyed and the remnants recycled into more positive uses. No one can erase history, and if we do not remember it, we “are doomed to repeat it.” If slavery was America’s “original sin,” racism remains its biggest one, and it is a healthy sign that we are taking a fresh look at these ancient evils and recognizing that we need to — once-and-for-all — move above and beyond them.

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