Multiple generations have passed since the time of World Wars I and II, marking substantial changes in racial tenets. Equality resulting from the Civil Rights Movement is a core value of the present U.S. democracy. Nevertheless, racism continues to be a very sensitive topic, especially in the South where the racially segregated past still casts a shadow over small towns. In Greenwood, S.C., Mayor Welborn Adams and the local American Legion have raised $15,000 to make new plaques for the town’s war memorial that will replace ones that designate the dead veterans as either “Colored” or “White,” as reported by The LA Times. Instead of being commended, this noble gesture of trying to create a more inclusive present has resulted in arrest threats for the mayor, accusing him of trying to erase the true history of the town.
During World Wars I and II, thousands of both black and white soldiers willingly endangered their lives for America at a time when racial seclusion was a blatant reality. Thus, it comes as no surprise that World War memorials to commemorate the dead valorous veterans– built in the same era of racism– have plaques with segregated columns for people of different races. A law made in 2000 states that no historical memorial may be “relocated, removed, distributed or altered” without legislative approval, according to the South Carolina Code of Laws. The logic behind the law is simple: the history of any place deserves to be represented the way it truly was.
It is understandable why many historians in the region thought it essential to speak out when the idea of replacing the plaques was originally brought up. Any rational citizen ought to question an erosion of truth. However, after four years of rejecting the project to discuss its repercussions in detail, the American Legion post’s executive committee finally voted 10 to zero to remove the plaques. Consequently, the post worked very hard with Adams to raise the money. They now eagerly await Senator Floyd Nicholson’s bill to pass in the State Legislature of South Carolina.
“It’s a segregation between men who all paid the same sacrifice, were all serving the same country, together, fighting the same war. You are lessening these African-Americans’ sacrifice,” Adams said in an interview with NBC. However, according to National Park Historian, Eric Williams, future generations “need to know that the country was not always as welcoming and integrated as it is now for different races.” I cannot grasp how the knowledge of a racially segregated past, which is very well imparted through education in public schools all over the country, is changed in the slightest by a few plaques. What is clearly recognizable is that those who surrendered themselves for America in the past deserve to be equally commemorated in the present. That is Adams’ thought behind wanting to replace these plaques.
It is evident, given the scenario, that the decision makers must have a legitimate argument for believing that these plaques need to be removed. The intentions ought to be seen as magnanimous. The soldiers who died in these brutal wars died as defenders of the American ideologies and land, not as black or white men. It seems unquestionable that the color of their skin is utterly insignificant to their sacrifice for the country they considered their homeland.
Regardless of race, it is the patriotism of these military men that matters, which was affiliated with America. The same rational citizen who first questioned the erosion of truth ought to know that the only fundamental element that any war memorial should embody is patriotism and heroism.
What the mayor is trying to achieve in his relatively small area of influence is bold and righteous. By detaching the unnecessary variable of racism attached to those who fought in the World Wars, a huge leap can be made in further eliminating existing racial tensions. Meanwhile, people need to critically examine the effort and debate that goes behind any legislative decision instead of misplacing evaluations against something that should have been done a long time ago.
Kamakshi Dadhwal can be reached at email@example.com