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.
Trump’s statements yesterday drew a line that divides good from evil. There is no moral equivalence. You have a right to know where leadership stands.
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.”
Charlottesville changes everything.
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.