In a Monday, April 30th attack on statuary, “Silent Sam”, the Confederate statue on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill was defaced with a mixture of blood and red ink. Maya Little, a black student at the campus, opened bottles of the ink, mixed in a token amount of blood, and splashed the base of the monument. From the Raleigh News & Observer:
“That statue is not a historical object,” said Little, who was arrested Monday and charged with defacing the monument. “It’s missing its history. What I did was give it some context.”
Little is a history major.
This is not a unique occurrence. Similar events have been happening across the country, as monuments are attacked. Often, the historical context – key to the story, because all of the statuary was sculpted and erected at significant cost and consideration. As example, the story of the Denton, TX monument as covered by the local NBC affiliate when it was defaced in 2015:
“The monument had been subject to another debate recently, as many pushed to have it removed. Some see it as a symbol of racism, while others say it’s a monument to Denton’s fallen soldiers and not the Confederacy.”
Another story, run locally after the decision to keep it, provides context missing from the more widely-seen Dallas broadcast (Cross-Timbers Gazette) :
It’s the only Confederate monument in Denton County. The Daughters of the Confederacy erected it in 1918.
A nearby plaque explains the monument to be: “a reminder of historic events and is intended as a memorial to Denton County citizens who sacrificed themselves for the community. Now, let this be a testimony that God created all men equal with certain inalienable rights. We are all one, citizens of Denton County.”
The dedication to it happened in 1918, and specified that it was about full equality for all men. That is not racist speech, although it was erected at a time when racist speech was often welcomed in the public square. It could have been racist, were that the intent.
Louisiana had a defacing issue in the same week. On Thursday, May 02, vandals spray-painted a 1922 memorial to a Confederate Col. Charles Dreux and put a white hood on it. (Huffington Post)
Kim Ford, a spokeswoman for the NAACP New Orleans branch, said that while she does not support what happened to the Dreux monument, she’d like to see it removed from the city.
“It’s not OK for anyone to vandalize anything,” Ford told HuffPost. “But I personally could care less about that statue. It needs to be removed, period. All symbols of racism and hate need to come down.”
There are examples from all around the country available… without even touching upon the obvious trigger point of the Charlottesville car attack, where a racist attacked a group of protesters with his vehicle, killing one and injuring many others during an illegally-held rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. (CNN)
There’s Georgia (Fox News), Alabama (Alabama.com), Florida (Sun-Sentinel), New Jersey (NBC), Missouri (Kansas City Star), Maine (Bangor Daily News), Virginia (Washington Post), Arizona (K5), and more than a dozen other states that fought both for the North and the South in the Civil War.
And proving that it’s not just the anti-Confederate groups that are trying to attack inanimate objects, there’s Mississippi, where a statue of Emmitt Till continues to be defaced, as if being unjustly lynched isn’t enough. (BBC)
And of course, it doesn’t have to be exclusive to the black / white racial divide… not while there’s a statue to Christopher Columbus available in Maryland. (Baltimore Sun)
The crowning achievement of ignorance may have been the Chicago attack on Abraham Lincoln, where a man who was firmly against slavery had his bust melted with fire and defaced with “F*** law” spray paint. (NBC) Based purely on the location of the attack (an area with a dominantly black population) and the anti-law sentiment among gang members in Chicago, supposition is rampant that it was done by a black vandal. Based on the target of the attack, it is supposed by some that it was a white vandal upset by an integrated society. One thing is fairly certain: the vandal is unfamiliar with history.
A common complaint about the Confederate statuary in particular is that many were raised during the Civil Rights era as an effort to suppress black organizing. This is absolutely true. That complaint, however, is used spuriously and incorrectly against far older monuments designed to commemorate the country’s history.
Some places are attempting to mitigate complaints by including plaques about the effects of slavery. Another possibility in this information age would be to include scannable codes that would direct smartphone users to online content including records, garnered from local newspapers and minutes of meetings, of the original debates and discussions about erecting the statues. That solution would expand upon the historical value of the statuary and simultaneously undermine any false arguments about what the statues were meant to represent, whether erected in 1890 or 1965.
Any resolutions are going to need to recognize that history – with all of its glories and horrors – needs to be taught, not eradicated and suppressed or shaped to reflect a modern agenda. A history student like Maya Little should be at the forefront of that movement instead of attacking it.