The removal of a Confederate monument in New Orleans has inspired folks in other towns to raise funds and build the momentum of removing from the public eye various Confederate monuments that have been raised across the nation.
While the tainted legacy of the Confederate cause is once again a talking point in the American public, the public has bigger fish to fry. A single steel statue in a square may offend people, but some monuments are more than statues. Some monuments are more pervasive than others. There are other, more prominent monuments that the nation should strongly consider recontextualizing, replacing, or removing. Some of these are brick-n-mortar monuments. Others are printed.
Consider the following five impertinent monuments that need removal or reshaping:
- Stone Mountain—Stone Mountain, GA has one of an awkward relief carving. In the midst of a beautiful, almost egg-like pluton is a scab-like crater in which was carved the image of three men on horseback. It’s one thing to make a statue of a past leader. It’s another to remove a giant chunk of rock from a public park in order to carve the likeness. Imagine if we had carved the likeness of loyalist Thomas Hutchinson into Natural Bridge, VA to remember those who fought for British rule of the colonies. The carving itself isn’t so much disrespectful as just weird. The disrespectful part is that the KKK was re-founded on the top of Stone Mountain, burning cross and all. So let’s make a deal: Honor the proposal to place a liberty bell in honor of MLK Jr on top of the mountain, and you get to keep the relief of Lee and company. This will clear up any confusion, a monument that can, in an unwieldy way, represent state’s rights and racial equality at the same time.
- Mount Rushmore—As above, it’s too late to change what has already been done to the beautiful mountain. Now we have the faces of four men where beforehand God had made a beautiful rock. If we’d wanted to build statues to four famous presidents, that would have been appropriate. But giant carvings into a mountain? That’s overkill. Besides, the Treaty of Ford Laramie declares the Black Hills to belong to the Lakota tribe, not the U.S. government. We had no right to carve anything on the rock, especially not Roosevelt. It is a great insult to a people to take their land away from them only to carve upon it the face of a man who said, “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages.” In this case also, let time and weather take it away. Let not a single tax dollar pay for its restoration. It is not a national treasure to the nation the property truly belongs to.
- Andrew Jackson on the $20 Bill—Not only is it a joke to put a statesman’s face on a piece of money (or paper representing money), but Jackson is one of the worst choices. Jackson’s legacy is one of support for slavery and signing the Indian Removal Act. By by now we have to have a better choice than Jackson for the twenty. Even Garfield would be a better choice. Yes, the cat too. He better represents our consumer economy anyway.
- Columbus Day—It’s getting old. Columbus plundered the Americas for gold, and was far from the first European to discover the continent. We didn’t even name the country after him. He assisted in exterminating indigenous people, and enslaved others. He may have sent more slaves than any one individual across the Atlantic ocean. So let’s scrap the holiday and replace it with Las Casas Day.
- The U.S.-Mexico Fortified Wall—I know it hasn’t been built yet, but let’s remove the idea of building it, an idea which, to many Americans, has already been pre-memorialized. We have a border. It has walls and fences. Making it a 30-foot wall isn’t going to stop people from arriving illegally. It will cost billions to build and maintain for generations to come. It’s ambitious scope presents more problems than solutions, economically, culturally, and environmentally. Though it will function as a barrier, it will also function as a monument, one that not only conflicts with the values of the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty, but also of a sizable portion of Americans, whose voice matter in a democracy.
The notion that people need monuments in order to preserve culture is often suspect. When we build an excess of statues and monuments to our achievements and our leaders, we run the risk of celebrating the wrong thing. If the public is going to have its tax dollars used to create a monument, more consensus must be drawn from the public to commission it. As time passes, if the consensus no longer exists to maintain or even celebrate it, let the monument be archived, sold, or destroyed. If statues are how you remember the past, you’re not trying hard enough to remember the past. If your statue was built to manufacture a consensus of celebration, your statue is in vain.