Flags and statues may fall, but the real struggle is for genuine voting rights, equal healthcare and truly integrated schools
One hundred and fifty-five years after Confederate troops surrendered at Appomattox and Bennett Place, their battle flag has finally come down in Mississippi and their statues are retreating from courthouse squares and university quads. As the children of generations of Black southerners who fought against the lies of the Lost Cause, we celebrate this most recent surrender and look forward to walking down streets that are not shadowed by monuments to men who claimed to own our ancestors. But we cannot understand why these monuments lasted so long without challenging the inequities they were erected to justify. In fact, many who support flags and statues coming down today also advocate voter suppression, attack healthcare and re-segregate our schools. We must attend to both the systems of injustice and the monuments that have justified them if we are to realize “liberty and justice for all”.
If you examine the bases of statues that are being hauled away, most bear a date between the 1890s and 1920s. These monuments did not rise in defiance of the federal troops who were sent by Congress and Ulysses S Grant to enforce Reconstruction and guarantee political power to the new Black citizens of the south in the 1860s and 1870s. If a statue of Robert E Lee or Jefferson Davis had been proposed during Reconstruction, the very suggestion would have sparked a riot. But after the compromise of 1876, when Rutherford B Hayes agreed to remove federal troops from the south, newly established Black and white political alliances were subjected to the violence of white terrorist organizations and the propaganda of white supremacy campaigns.