The South’s Monumental History Lesson

Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court
The Roberts Supreme Court is rolling back the gains Thurgood Marshall fought for.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

One of the arguments offered by those fighting the removal of confederate statues is that it would be tantamount to “erasing history.” Instead of tributes to heroes of the confederacy, they claim, these statues are actually monuments that teach us about the evil of slavery. Once they are gone, these lessons would supposedly be lost.

Let’s assume for a second that this argument is not completely ridiculous. After all, it was presented by, among many others, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the GOP’s foremost minds. President Donald Trump also made a similar case.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted.

If statues are the way people in the South are learning about history, then how come there are so many monuments dedicated to the men who took up arms against the United States but so few to civil rights heroes like Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall?

Before being sworn in as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice 50 years ago tomorrow, Marshall played an important role in helping to remove (a part) of the stain of discrimination from the South. As executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he successfully argued the Brown v. Board of Education case, which declared state-sponsored segregation unconstitutional, before the Supreme Court. That would seem like a historic accomplishment. And, if statues are the way to learn about history, then there certainly must be lots of Thurgood Marshall monuments in the South and across the United States. Well … not so much.

An online search did not reveal any Thurgood Marshall statues in the South. There is one in Baltimore, though, where he was born. That begs the following question: If monuments are such a crucial way of learning about history, don’t the officials putting up statues in the South want people to learn about Marshall or Brown v. Board of Education?

Apparently not. And, if the “erasing history” argument is to be taken seriously, then the selection of who is being honored paints an equally unflattering picture of the South. It’s OK to learn about Confederate leaders but the important lessons of the civil rights movement are glossed over and not worthy to be taught in this manner.

By the way, what about Rosa Parks? Certainly, her heroic role in the struggle for equal rights would be worthy of a history lesson in the form of monuments all across the South. In her case, there are actually a handful of memorials but most of them are in Michigan, where she died.

To be fair, a train station has been named in her honor in a major city. That city is Paris, France.

Lesson learned.


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Thurgood Marshall caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), body (Obama White House / Flickr) and Supreme Court columns (US Supreme Court).

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Lee monument (Doug Kerr / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

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10 responses to “The South’s Monumental History Lesson”

  1. brente says:

    Well if you want statues of civil right heroes, then erect them and pay for them and those that don’t want to pay for them don’t have to.

  2. Cloudchopper says:

    Smashing statues satisfies the emotions of the moment but it alone does not bring positive change.

    The Iraqis and Americans tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, cheering in the street. OK, how has that worked out for them? Not too well.

    The problem with our new technology of Twitter and Facebook means that emotional protests with lots of smashing, kneeling, locking arms, counter-locking arms only lasts for about one, two , three weeks news cycles until something else comes up. In the meantime real change eludes the masses.

    Real protests have to be done by millions of people against the corrupt system and wars in general, and they have to last weeks, if not months to have a real impact. Unions of old did that, not any more. Now we have one grievance after another coming in rapid succession, but nothing substantial is being accomplished.

  3. Tsigantes says:

    Ahem, Maryland is in the south and is south of the Mason-Dixon line. It planned to secede but to pre-empt this its legislators were kidnapped by the Union army.

    Concerning Thurgood Marshall’s statue, how many statues of supreme court justices are there anyway in the USA?

  4. Tsigantes says:

    The civilised thing to do is ADD statues, not tear them down on spurious, partisan charges.

    • SeattleProgressive8 says:

      Since when is saying no to racism a ‘partisan charge’??

      You can ignore the role those statues play in putting certain people in their place all you want, but that doesn’t mean the grown ups in the room are going to.

    • Tsigantes says:

      Well, following your logic, if you insist on truly stamping out every hint and form of racism from 1642 to the present, then you Americans will be obliged to destroy your entire country, bring down the government, tear up your Constitution, STOP speaking English and put the entire population in front of the firing squad – on principle -as racist interloping thieves, even if their crime was committed 150 years ago [like the statues] or more. Merely pulling down a statue here and there is tokenism, as black people know only too well. Meanwhile what about the huge real-life issues facing you like the overwhelming US government corruption the rest of the world sees; and the truly racist rhetoric (the whole idea of exceptionalism, for a start) and violent , illegal acts of war you release on the planet after racially and culturally demonising – your target countries? And if you are against racism, why not start with American prisons….why not focus on an a real injustice against black people that could actually change their lives for the better? But no, you want to focus on a few statues and pretend to yourself this will change things.

    • SeattleProgressive8 says:

      Wow. You think Americans shouldn’t tell others what to do, yet here you are telling Americans what to do? Brilliant. You do realize that you can’t stamp out the racism of the past, right? It’s impossible, correct? Does that mean that we should leave statues in place of the racists that remind black people of their place beneath white people? Of course not. Get a clue.

    • Tsigantes says:

      Your logic is sadly circular. “Stamp out” as many tokens as you like but avoid at all cost urgent issues of injustice that can radically change black people’s lives. Very impressive.

    • SeattleProgressive8 says:

      Nobody said not to change urgent issues of injustice. Those statues of traitors are a part of the injustice, and yet you can’t even admit that. What does that say about you?

  5. Jane says:

    There was a deliberate effort in the South right after the Civil War to write the war’s history in a way that eliminated any real discussion of the slavery issue.
    That version won. Memory has remained skewed. Dealing with those monuments is the right thing to do. See the book Race and Reunion.