How Will Creating Lynching Monuments Set Things Right?


The Civil War of the United States will never be over, if some groups have their say.

I missed this story last year; its current iteration saddens and frustrates me. It seems that some people want to transform our history, create new villains and victims, design a story that will make some folks hate others more than ever, and pity those who had little power. I don’t think a lynching monument, or several of them, are going to improve this picture.

Last fall the Equal Justice Initiative was in the process of building a monument to memorialize the history of lynching in our country; the intention, in part, was to contrast them with the Confederate statues that were erected in the South.  One person tried to explain the rationale behind the lynching monuments:

‘What we are trying to do is tell the real truth,’ DeKalb County NAACP President Teresa Hardy said of the new memorial, which she hoped would be a slab marker including the names of people lynched in her county.

Lynching memorials or markers also are being considered in Birmingham, Ala., Tallahassee, Fla., and other places with public Confederate monuments and markers.

The decisions to put up lynching memorials is odd on many levels. Some people say that people need to know that lynchings took place. I agree. They were a despicable part of our history and should be taught in our high school-level history classes. In some ways, however, establishing these memorials seems like payback: if white people can celebrate Southern Civil War heroes, black people can punish them by reminding them that the South not only fought a dishonorable war, but Southerners unjustly lynched blacks.

I understand that for some people, reminders of the Civil War are painful. But has it occurred to the black community that the Confederate statues not only celebrate bravery and leadership, but also remind us that hundreds of thousands of people died on both sides? Isn’t there a benefit to having reminders of our worst wars so that we take them seriously, so that we honor human life, and never forget the horrific experiences we have been through? Don’t we benefit from facing the truth, whether we live in the North or South, that our Republic is fragile and sometimes seriously at risk?

Activist blacks say that racism will never be over, that white people are inherently racist. Yet I doubt that these kinds of movements to build lynching memorials are helpful in planting seeds of reconciliation.

The best question I’ve seen about putting up lynching monuments was this one:

Some who consider Confederate monuments racist have questioned whether putting up new markers about lynching reinforces notions of black people as victims.

‘I’m not sure how I feel about this landscape where we have monuments to white triumph and next to it or down the road you have monuments to black victimization,’ said Nina Silber, a Boston University history professor.

What do you think?

Published in History
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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Joshua Bissey (View Comment):
    None of those things contribute to a culture of victimhood. The purveyors of victim culture do that, and they don’t need memorials to do it.

    I think what’s getting mushed together, Joshua, is memorializing victims and reinforcing victimhood. As I said earlier (and you might agree), those people whose primary identity is “victim” should not be encouraged; we only validate their destructive self-images. The problem, which comes out of your point, is that not everyone sees him or herself as a victim, and many people appreciate those memorials to those who have been lost. The comments on this post have helped me see that those who establish memorials are not responsible for how people respond to them (we are all responsible for our own reactions), and that honoring those who have been lost, whether to wars or to slavery, is a positive thing. If someone’s negative self-image is also reinforced, that is the person’s problem, not the public’s.

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