I am moved to write this by the appeal to preserve and honor history put forth by the Alabama state senator from Tuscaloosa — in the form of public statues more than 40 years old. The senator quotes a noted philosopher, George Santayana, more or less: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” From the context of recent events over the past year or so, the senator is concerned with preserving monuments erected during and after Reconstruction — those using symbols derived from the Confederate States of America. (Protestations to the contrary, these were, and are, monuments to white supremacy. Google “Confederate monuments meaning” for in-depth explanations from many sources.)
There is the past as it was — and there are histories of the past – each unavoidably incomplete. The senator refers to one history which hides, and thereby grossly distorts, much of the past – ignoring the terrorism by whites visited upon the black population of the South for over a century. The valor of soldiers was and is used to hide the terroristic motivations behind these symbols in public places. Generations later that cover serves to make their removal or modification more difficult as exemplified by the senator’s success. Increasingly a majority of whites in Alabama, and the other states of the old Confederacy, are seen to be unable to face the past – and move past it. An inability clear to many whites and almost certainly to all non-whites. That inability does not augur well for the future if it is unchanged.
In the dominant religion in the United States of America a commandment is to “not bear false witness.” In a court a witness is sworn “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” While the forum of “Letters to the Editor” is neither religious nor judicial, it is a public one deserving to be treated honorably with the “whole truth.” It is hoped the Honorable Senator, all those who supported his bill, and the Governor who signed it, will visit “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice” and “The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.” It is sobering to accept that those were inspired by events as dire as the Holocaust and Apartheid and by the desire to facilitate reconciliation. These opened in Montgomery on April 26, 2018, the same day (the Senator’s) letter was published in The Citizen. He, and many of us, will find there a facet of history which we must not forget and should not “be condemned to repeat …”
Albert O. Howard