Considering the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and the ongoing debate over the legitimate place of Civil War and Reconstruction era monuments in this country, we, the members of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, express our unyielding commitment to building a more just, open and unified society.
As a state-sponsored commission, with more than 25 years of state service, we are dedicated to the preservation of South Carolina’s African American history and culture and we understand the need to chronicle the past. However, we vehemently oppose any attempt to use “history” to push a White supremacist agenda or to intimidate those who still suffer the effects of our country’s past wrongs. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
The Civil War and Reconstruction continue to divide Americans. The bloody and divisive conflict may have been a “struggle between brothers,” but the brothers were fighting over the continuation, legality and morality of slavery. Likewise, all of those who took up arms against the Union did something that would be a crime today. Honoring them in public places sends a convoluted message to our children, especially in this age of terrorism.
Museums and educational spaces may be the best places for these figures so that they can be studied in context. Leaving them in public spaces provides opportunities for them to be worshipped. However, if removal is not the choice of the community, then a full educational and interpretive examination of who these men were is needed to understand the purpose of their monuments.
Lastly, for the millions of Americans who were drafted during World War II to fight the Nazi menace and for all those today who honor their sacrifice, there can be no excuse for not immediately condemning those who call for ethnic cleansing and genocide on our own shores. We are disheartened by the emergence of so-called Alt-right with their associated groups like the KKK, White supremacists and neo-fascists organizations. Their ideas contradict our fundamental beliefs as Americans.
Our Commission is committed to the promotion of healthy, open and constructive debate about the past. However, we are vigorously opposed to any acts of intimidation, violence or terrorism. We strongly urge the citizens of South Carolina to join us in condemning all forms of racism, discrimination and misrepresentations of the past and encourage all people to commit themselves to honest and respectful public discourse.
Dr. Abel A. Bartley is the chair of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.