Photo courtesy WIS TV at this link.
The S.C. State House is once again putting itself on the wrong side of history as it charges forward with, “The Story of America.”
Through this initiative, legislators plan to 1) levy severe fines against local governments that remove monuments, 2) micromanage the delivery of history in government-run schools, and 3) insist upon factual statements on monument plaques.
In the press conference announcing the initiative, legislators were flanked by decorated war veterans, thus continuing the narrative that monuments are patriotic and that protecting history is part of our duty as citizens. But why do we think monuments must be permanent?
Most citizens were not consulted when many of these monuments were funded, designed, and erected. The majority of S.C. monuments were privately funded (link).
Moreover, our citizenry is changing. We have an influx of Northerners, a surge of equity-minded young people, and a national trend toward inclusivity. All of which has apparently spooked the old guard.
Like most actions cloaked in patriotism, House Bill 3249 has a very specific target. Last year’s racial injustice demonstrations made enemies by identifying specific monuments as blatantly racist. Notably, Benjamin Tillman on the Statehouse grounds and John C. Calhoun in Marion Square in Charleston. The Charleston mayor and city council determined the city’s land should not be used for such divisive displays (link).
House Bill 3249 would penalize Charleston for relocating the statue of John C. Calhoun away from Marion Square.
The Glory of the Lost Cause mythology and the accomplishments of racist but influential statesmen are part of the story legislators want told. The narrative remains the same when it’s the same voices telling the story. Including the effort to tell the truth on plaques should be a red flag. If we have to violate the first amendment and legislate truth-telling, what does that say about the memorialized persons?
Reviewing history lessons is not the role of the legislature. It is the role of educators, many of whom are recently graduated from their own education experience and have the lens of modern sensibility. This shift is a good thing. We should evolve. We should want to do better. We should aspire to be more informed, more empathetic, and more inclusive.
We should not preserve antiquated views of race or misleading narratives of war.
The story of America is messy. It’s mean and violent and ugly. It’s also redemptive, renewing, and hopeful. It’s not one thing, it’s many, many, things to many, many people.
Preserving monuments is not complicated: let citizens vote. Open forum for debate, discussion, and compromise. Encourage dissenting views to ensure the decisions being made are in the interest of all citizens, not just the ones behind the podium. Better yet, sell the monuments at auction; whoever wins them can do whatever they wish so long as it’s not on public land.
Teaching history is also not complicated: use the internet. The more resources brought into the classroom, the more diverse and inclusive the conversation will be. Trust our educators to facilitate that discussion. And history education is a discussion. It’s marrying multiple points of view to determine a narrative. It’s not a single narrative spun by the South Carolina Statehouse.
You’re on the wrong side of history. Again. The best indicator that House Bill 3249 is the death rattle of the old guard: not a single woman or person of color spoke at its announcement.
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