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Monumental decision: Should it stay or should it go?

by Reese Williams

The controversy surrounding the Confederate monuments in the Tampa Bay area has UT students contemplating whether they should continue to stand or be taken down.

Starting in 2015, after the Charleston church shooting and multiple other events like the Unite the Right rally, Confederate statues were removed around the country. According to a 2017 Reuters poll, “54 percent of American adults stated that the monuments should remain in all public spaces, and 27 percent said they should be removed, while 19 percent said they were unsure.” Reuters also noted that Democrats favored the removal side while Republicans mostly felt like the statues should stay.

The most recent issue regarding Confederate monuments happened just last August in North Carolina. On Aug. 20, multiple protestors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill toppled “Silent Sam,” a Confederate commemorative statue. This action made headline news and caused the topic of Confederate monuments to regain the national spotlight. This event also happened about a year after protestors toppled the Confederate Soldiers Monument outside the Old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, North Carolina. In just the last three years, Texas has removed about 30 Confederate monuments, the most out of any state.

Tampa Bay has its share of Confederate monuments as well. Recently, a Confederate monument that depicts two confederate soldiers was removed from the grounds of a local courthouse and moved to a private cemetery. All major sports teams in Tampa endorsed the decision to move the statue and the statue will not be open to the public.

“I believe that the Confederate monuments should be taken down,” Gabby Ferrio, UT student, said. “I feel like we are in a different era right now and we don’t need to remember that negative part of America’s history.”

Steve McFarland, assistant professor of geography, believes that the cultural effort around the creation of the monuments, which extended to rewriting textbooks and the creation of popular films like Birth of a Nation, created a narrative of a noble slaveocracy and Confederate struggle. He also said that it supported a racial divide-and-conquer strategy against multi-racial populist movements, and set the cultural stage for the violent re-emergence of the KKK in the 1920s. In light of the social reasons for the monuments creation, McFarland believes they should be put in museums or cemeteries or taken down.

“Monument supporters claim ‘heritage not hate’ but when you look at the public declarations that were made at the time the monuments were erected it is quite clear that they were dedicated to the hateful cause of white supremacy,” McFarland said.

There is still disagreement over how history is remembered, even within UT’s campus. Despite the fact that times have changed, some people believe it is important to acknowledge and accept the evolution the country has gone through as a culture and society.

“My opinion on Confederate Monuments is that there should be historical placards placed around these monuments to educate people on the history of this country,” Nicholas Crabbs, UT student, said. “While these monuments represent a negative part of our history and we should learn about it so it doesn’t happen again, they also represent the town that they were constructed in and should be respected in that manner.”

Reese can be reached at reese.williams@spartans.ut.edu

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