The Civil War May Be Settled, But the Fight to Remove Confederate Symbols Rages On

5/11/2017, midnight
Fights over history are really contests for children’s minds. And the stakes are high enough that adults have put children ...
Participants in a rally by the #TakeEmDownNOLA movement march to the Robert E. Lee monument in New Orleans May 7, 2017. #TakeEmDownNOLA is a collective of activists dedicated to removing Confederate symbols throughout the city. (Andre Perry/The Root)

New Orleans, LA-Nationwide--Fights over history are really contests for children’s minds. And the stakes are high enough that adults have put children in harm’s way. Last week, people protesting the removal of Confederate flags in New Orleans brandished guns and at least one assault rifle within range of a local school known for diversity. School officials casually laid down measuring tape to see if protesters violated federal law that requires a 1,000-foot “firearm-free zone” around schools. And armed protesters flouted Orleans Parish criminal code, which makes it illegal to possess firearms at demonstrations.

Keeping guns away from schools and demonstrations should be prioritized, but accomplishing that on a technicality misses the mark.

Confederate monuments will always encourage division, guns and fighting because they were constructed to serve as a symbolic line in the sand. And that’s why I’m glad Southern states have begun the healing process of removing monuments that provide a battleground for those for whom the war is never over.

After the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., in which white supremacist and neo-Confederate Dylann Roof killed nine African-American congregants, people took action. Activists boosted their efforts to remove Confederate tributes across the Deep South and sparked conversations that have helped correct the historical record, honor the democracy of living citizens and move our communities closer to democratic ideals.

But law officials must not only quickly remove these sources of violence, they must also enforce laws designed to protect our children. Public school officials should make the loudest demands that Confederate monuments belong in museums where guns are not allowed.

A laissez-faire attitude toward protecting our children and removing the monuments is a sign that injustice has been normalized. These monuments were clearly not meant for me to remember or honor (the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow segregation are enough for me). No, these Confederate monuments were meant to indoctrinate children into a system of white supremacy and to normalize the hate that is leveled against groups that disagree.

In 1907, thousands surrounded the unveiling of the Jefferson Davis Memorial (one of four monuments the city of New Orleans democratically decided in 2015 to remove), including 500 students from the city’s all-white schools. Davis was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, and he died in New Orleans. Young people dressed in Confederate colors were arranged to form a Confederate flag, said to be a “living battle flag,” and sang “Dixie,” a Southern anthem popularized by blackface minstrel shows in the early 20th century.

These students in 1907 were essentially indoctrinated at an altar of white supremacy. Davis died in 1889, before the students attending the unveiling of his memorial were born. Those who did know and admire Davis erected the monument to pledge white children into a Confederate nation that had failed to be achieved.

Idly waiting for the issue to resolve itself and ignoring gun laws are signs that educators, students and law enforcement have grown accustomed to hate. But their maladjustment puts students under the immediate threat of gunfire and continues desensitizing them to injustice. Students today don’t have to form a living battle flag when they walk past it every day.