There are some men and women whose names should be on monuments, buildings or roads. These are people who should be remembered throughout time. There are also people who should not, now or ever, have a monument to their memory, but they should also be remembered through time.
Robert E. Lee is one of these people.
He was a man revered by many people because of an image they have of the white-bearded man astride a horse in a clean grey uniform.
He was a top graduate of the United State Military Academy at West Point, a colonel in the United States Army, superintendent of West Point and president of Washington College.
He also commanded a rebel army in the Civil War, owned slaves and opposed racial equity between whites and blacks after the war.
Let’s just say, the bad outweighs the good.
George Washington is on the other end of the spectrum, but let’s compare their statistics.
Washington commanded a rebel army, owned slaves and signed in to law the Fugitive Slave Act.
He is also considered the father of this great nation, commanded the army which liberated the 13 Colonies from the control of King George III of England and also signed the Slave Trade Act of 1794 limiting American involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
The good, in this case, outweighs the bad. (Notice the-involvement-in-slavery trend.)
The first public school I attended was Robert E. Lee Elementary school in Satsuma, Alabama.
What involvement did Lee have in Satsuma? None. None at all.
What was the reason for naming the school in honor of Lee? I assure you, it wasn’t a good one.
Later in life I would live in Washington County.
What involvement did Washington have in Washington County? None. None at all.
What was the reason for naming the county in honor of Washington? I assure you, it was a good one.
For the last few months, our country has been taking a broad swipe at anyone with their name applied to a building.
Horace Mann, the father of public education in America and one of my ancestors, has his name emblazoned on the side of the University of Florida’s school of education. Should his name be removed since some have deemed public education to be a school-to-prison pipeline? (I know it’s nonsense, but stick with me for a minute.)
Another ancestor, William Barret Travis, has his name on a plaque at the Alamo where he was commander during the war for Texan Independence. He, along with Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, died there, but he owned a slave and left his wife and child under odd circumstances back in Alabama.
Abraham Lincoln (really?) freed the slaves, but in Boston there is a statue of him standing over a freed black man who is rising up while breaking chains.
A statue at the Museum of Natural History in New York of Theodore Roosevelt will come down because of its symbolism and not the man astride the horse in the center of the tableau.
Tim Tebow has a statue in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier Florida Field, but he used to take a knee during football games after touchdowns.
Each day we find a new way in this country to be offended by a symbol.
In some cases, rightfully so, but in other cases, the reach is simply too great.
We should be changing the state flag of Mississippi. We should consider moving some monuments.
We also should learn some common sense.
The movement to make these wide, sweeping changes to any statue of a man who lived in a time before ours will most likely eat itself.
Symbolic gestures in reaction to symbols are, for the most part, empty.
Tearing down a Lincoln or Roosevelt statue because of the message it sends in layered symbolism won’t change a policy or program.
But, the sentiment to consider what these symbols mean to others than ourselves can be a positive.
We need to work on the systemic problems that plague parts of our society. Poverty, inequality and hunger need to be addressed before the placement of people in a statue of an otherwise great person.
But, if we don’t understand how those symbols affect the folks they hurt, we may never understand the problems they also face outside our own.
Jon Alverson is proud to be publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 662-335-1155.