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Confederate Statues—Lemons or Lemonade?

The Confederate memorial at the Alabama Capitol building (flickr user timparkinson)

by S. McEachin Otts

This is a teaching moment in the South and in our nation—a time to make lemonade from lemons! How could inanimate statues provide the key to the elusive outcome that we all want—racial harmony? Well, for one thing, this will not involve racially manipulative politics, and that alone is a reason for hope! Please hear me out.

As a pretty conservative guy from a small Alabama town, I composed my book (Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist) with the primary motivation of promoting open dialogue in the interest of racial harmony. A Confederate statue in my hometown was significantly referenced in the book. Now, as strife rages over these statues, I am offering the following observations and suggestions.

Confederate statues are abundant in the South. A lone Confederate soldier has remained in his lofty position fronting the county courthouse in my hometown for over 113 years. My great grandfather’s name is among the many names inscribed in stone on the base of this memorial. All it takes to see how abundant these statues are throughout the South is to take a driving tour by county courthouses.

Regardless of motivations, demonstrations against the removal of Confederate statues and counter demonstrations have only salted long-standing wounds. Extremist elements are drawn into these events like flies on sugar. They exist to stir up conflict, and violence is the logical outcome.

I agree that confederate statues dominate the South far more than is appropriate to reflect broad community values as they have been consolidated over the years. However, simply tearing them down misses a tremendous opportunity to promote those values. Many people in places like my hometown want racial harmony. They are weary of politicians who court conflict or take unilateral action to solidify their election base to the exclusion of significant segments of the community. I was astounded to hear that the Mayor of Baltimore took statues down under the veil of darkness! Does anyone really think such unilateral or covert actions promote racial harmony?

The process matters! If significant numbers of community members want to eliminate a historical statue and significant numbers want to preserve it, duly elected leaders of that community should convene community meetings that are based on coming together in a spirit of compromise. A historical study and discussion of each monument will help everyone to understand its intended meaning. An examination of related history since will bring everyone up to date. After learning from history, alternative compromises can be presented and discussed. Examples include relocation to a historical location or relocation to a less prominent location. Another alternative could be the construction of new statues memorializing local soldiers who represented community and nation during more honorable periods of history – examples being the Civil Rights Movement, Revolutionary War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, etc. A third possibility would be new text inscriptions that place such statues in a more appropriate historic and values context.

Decisions to destroy statues could still be made, but such decisions will be not be made in a vacuum. Rather, they will be the product of an inclusive, non-manipulative process that has inherent value. It is true that alternatives could be costly and likely will not leave everyone satisfied. However, considering what it could mean to such interests as businesses, historic preservation groups, and community service organizations, I believe financial sponsors will step forward to help.

The entire process will be on the job training for working together as a community—a tremendous precedent for growth in developing a true sense of community and meaningful racial harmony. The time is right. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to make lemonade from lemons!

 

About the Author: McEachin“Mac” Otts holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Alabama. He served as a Campus Minister, Counselor, and Executive Director of child and family services agencies in three states. He was also Director of the Alabama Association of Child Care Agencies. A recognized advocate for abused children, Mac received Governors’ appointments for several terms on the Board of the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and the State Children’s Policy Council.  “Semi-retired” today, Mac is a part time consultant, public speaker, and author of Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racistpublished by New South Books. He and his wife Carol live in Mobile, Alabama. They have two children and four rousing grandchildren.

 

Editor’s Note: The opinions of Yellowhammer’s Guest Contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Yellowhammer News.

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