Remove Confederate monuments from public property
As a serious student of history, I have been conflicted about whether it is best to remove Confederate memorials from public property or to reframe them to acknowledge both the past and present concerns.
The Romans (not a people committed to political correctness) practiced “damnatio memoriae.” If a public figure was disgraced, statues and other memorials honoring him would not be removed, but they would be defaced. Commonly, the name of the person in the dedicatory inscription would be struck out, but in such a way as to remain legible, along with the rest of the honorary inscription. As one historian memorably put it, damnatio memoriae reminded the viewers to forget, all the while remembering the person’s name and the reasons for which he was no longer worthy of honor.
I thought for a long time that some version of this might be adapted to the present moment. It wouldn’t erase the past in which a memorial was erected, but it would make clear that honor should no longer be given to this figure.
The events of the last few months, however, have convinced me otherwise. The past celebrated is too ugly, and the pain that such Confederate monuments inflict on African-American viewers is too great to leave them in place no matter how they’re framed. Their presence is also an invitation to white supremacists to be violent.
Any Confederate monuments on public property should be removed with all due speed. Perhaps it would be appropriate to house them in the Museum of East Tennessee History downtown framed in such a way to make their history clear, an explanation of who the figure honored was, the context in which the monument was erected, the history of its presence in the city and the reasons for removing the monument.
Maura Lafferty, Knoxville
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Two wrongs seldom make a right
Having lived in Knoxville for 75 years, I have traveled 17th Street hundreds of times. In some those passages, I undoubtedly saw the monument that is an inflammatory subject for some Knoxville residents. After more than 100 years, its presence is suddenly an abhorrent endorsement of the Confederacy. If I am correctly informed, it was erected to as a memorial for Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Fort Sanders. Since it was erected 1914 it has existed with little notice or objection.
At this point the activities to be unveiled at Saturday’s rally by opponents of removal of this block of stone and supporters of removal are unknown but are not happily anticipated by citizens with no ax to grind in this event.
The Civil War was over more than 150 years ago. The South lost, and any purpose that war was intended to serve was left to the victorious government forces to implement. Why are we, at this point in time, continuing to stoke the fires of division over the existence of memorials? It would appear that political correctness is inflicting one faction with a guilt complex over the still-standing Confederate monuments. If and when they are all gone, will you feel a sense of redemption for accomplishing this erasure of history?
Rallies tend to evolve into demonstrations, then protests, and all too often culminate in riots. This letter precedes our Knoxville confrontation. I hope we witness reasonable restraint by both sides in this unsolvable dilemma.
W.S. (Bill) Pryor, Knoxville
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