Confederate Monuments—Frequently Asked Questions
How did the National Trust for Historic Preservation—an organization dedicated to saving places—arrive at a point where it supports removal of Confederate monuments?
The National Trust believes that Black Lives Matter, Black History Matters, and that historic preservation have a powerful role to play in telling the full story of our often-difficult history.
The nationwide call for racial justice and equity has brought renewed attention to the Confederate monuments in many of our communities. We reexamined the statements we made in in the past, including the most recent made in response to the violent white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville in 2017, and determined to be more clear about the importance of removing these monuments from public places when they continue to reinforce racial injustice.
Our view is that unless these monuments can in fact be used to foster recognition of the reality of our painful past of racial injustice and invite reconciliation for the present and the future, they should be removed from our public spaces.
As preservationists, our goal is not to freeze places in time, and historic places should be allowed to evolve as their communities and individuals do. The purpose of preservation is not to stop change, but to offer tools that help a community manage change in thoughtful ways that do not disconnect the community from the full legacies of its past and the potential for its future.
Does removing a Confederate monument mean you’re erasing history?
No. History is not that fragile. History is written in our buildings, landscapes, documents, objects, oral traditions, individual memories, and many other places, as well as in monuments in public spaces. To the contrary, left standing without appropriate context, these monuments promote a false and damaging narrative. When removed, these monuments can provide an even deeper understanding of history in other venues, such as museums, that can offer fuller and more inclusive context around the people, events, and ideologies that led to the monuments’ creation, and their relationship to present-day issues.
Does the National Trust approve of the spontaneous removal of these monuments by individuals or groups?
No. Though the National Trust recognizes that these symbols have stood as tacit sanctions of oppression—in some cases, for more than a century—we do not agree with the removal of these monuments in any unplanned way, such as spontaneous action during a protest, that represents a danger to public safety.
What guidance is the National Trust offering to communities? What steps do you recommend?
The National Trust is in the process of developing additional guidance to help communities grapple with and formulate their own ideas on these issues, especially if they are considering removing a Confederate monument. We plan to share more resources in the coming weeks, and we want to play an active role in helping communities to allow their public spaces to continue to evolve to reflect their values. Please visit our website on this topic for updates and additional information.
What should communities do with the monuments that are removed?
Ideally, communities should be inclusive in deciding the future of these monuments and use the process as an opportunity for acknowledgement and reconciliation. Realistically, that may not be possible at the present time if the removal poses a risk to public safety. Options include putting them in storage; relocating them to private land or other locations as determined by the community; or recontextualizing them in an honest and inclusive way, whether in a museum or another place.
What, if anything, should replace them?
We believe that it is up to each community to decide whether or how to replace them, but that process should be done in a thoughtful and inclusive way to promote genuine healing and reconciliation. Because removal itself becomes a part of the ongoing history of the communities they once stood in, the resulting change in the cultural landscape of these public places creates an important opportunity to “tell the full story” about why they were erected—and why they were removed.
What about Confederate monuments on Civil War battlefields? Does the National Trust support their removal?
There are a number of different types of monuments at Civil War battlefields that reference the Confederacy, including monuments to specific Confederate military leaders or units, memorials of individual and collective deaths in battle, and markers that identify the locations of military units and their movements within the landscape. In some cases, monuments have been installed on battlefields for the primary purpose of glorifying, promoting, and reinforcing the ideology of white supremacy. But many others serve as true memorials or monuments to historic events or people engaged in those events. And some are a hybrid: they recognize battlefield action, and even details of individual units, but also feature text or graphic elements that reflect aspects of “Lost Cause” ideology.
Consistent with the National Trust position on Confederate monuments in public spaces it is also appropriate to remove Confederate monuments on battlefields that were primarily intended to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy. This will help to ensure that our public spaces—including National Parks and other state and local publicly-owned Civil War battlefields—are welcoming spaces to all Americans. At the same time, we recognize that battlefields are different from courthouse squares or other civic spaces, because they were the places where soldiers of both sides fought and died, and sometimes where their remains still lie. Battlefields of any era are meaningful and sacred places of education, memorialization, and reflection. As such, they are places where monuments and memorials can be powerful tools for education and memorialization, as well as fostering recognition and inviting reconciliation.
Within this context, and acknowledging the many different meanings of battlefield monuments, the National Trust strongly supports a process of inclusive public engagement, through which the National Park Service and other stewards of publicly-owned Civil War battlefields should fully consider options for the future treatment of Confederate monuments, including removal, relocation, or retention with additional contextualization—such as interpretation by experienced park rangers to ensure that these monuments are understood and are historically and accurately presented.
Whether or not Confederate monuments are removed from battlefields or other public spaces, it is imperative that robust additional interpretation (and, as appropriate, commemorative works) be added to our National Parks and historic sites around the country that more fully recognizes the tremendous human cost of and courageous resistance to the institution of slavery, as well as the full stories of Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement.
How does the National Trust’s position on Confederate monuments translate to other types of monuments and memorials, such as those to Christopher Columbus?
This debate has sparked cascading conversations nationwide about the origin and meaning of other monuments, landmarks, or objects. We also acknowledge that not all monuments are the same. The National Trust’s statement refers specifically to Confederate monuments, their unique context, and their relationship to this moment in time. That said, we encourage all communities to review, consider, and grapple with their full complex histories, and the way those histories are represented by monuments in public places, to help move us toward greater understanding and acknowledgement of our often-difficult history.
What is the National Trust doing to save places related to African American history?
The National Trust strives to tell the full American story, including, among other ways, the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, which works to save places where African American history happened. We invite members of the public to take the pledge to join us in saving these places, and learn more about this critical work.
What about historic sites, especially former plantations, where people were enslaved?
We differentiate symbolic monuments from historic sites that have developed over time, some of them places built by African Americans held in bondage. These historic sites today must serve as critical places to explore the legacies of slavery and discrimination, and as sites of conscience where the honest exploration of our shared history and reconciliation can occur. At our own National Trust Historic Sites, we are engaged actively in this work, but there is much to be done and we look forward to sharing our work on this with colleagues across the country as it continues.
What about people who are proud of their Confederate heritage? How should they respond to this issue?
Thoughtful, honest dialogue is essential so that those who are proud of their Confederate heritage also begin to understand the way the monuments are seen differently by other members of the community. While these monuments may be understood as part of the legacy of Confederate veterans, they are viewed by others—including some of those descendants of Confederate veterans, new residents, and African American members of the community—as public confirmation of an ideology that supports racial oppression. We believe that monuments in public spaces should reflect the shared values of the full community and should not project oppression or intimidation. People are still free to remember and honor their ancestors, whether Confederate, Union, enslaved, or free, which can be a path to deeper understanding of our shared and difficult history.
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