When vandals tear down a Frederick Douglass statue, what’s that got to do with removing Confederate statues — especially at Gettysburg?
On Sunday, July 5, vandals broke a Frederick Douglass statue off its pedestal at Maplewood Park in Rochester, N.Y. and dragged the black abolitionist’s bronze figure to the edge of a river gorge. This was the latest — but not the last — monument destroyed since the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis in May.
Usually operating within nighttime’s camouflaging darkness, history revisionists targeted Confederate monuments, then other white guys (Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, et al), and suddenly Douglass. A theory exists that white supremacists tore down Douglass in revenge for the destruction of “white” monuments.
That’s only a theory.
Rochester’s a fair haul from Gettysburg National Military Park, home to some 1,300 monuments, including some two dozen Confederate monuments. With such monuments toppling elsewhere, some Civil War buffs are discussing how long to Gettysburg’s either suffer vandalism or come down altogether.
Is the idea ludicrous? Definitely not. In a September 13, 2017 news clip on CBS 21 in Harrisburg, Pa., reporter Ashley Honea asked, “ … are the [Gettysburg] monuments and civil war reenactments justified as a part of history, despite hateful messages they may send, and where do they stand in the colliding realms of political correctness and free speech?”
Not that the Constitution mentions “political correctness” in a particular article, of course.Free speech is right there in Article 1, along with freedom of the press.
Watch Honea’s clip here.
Opining in the Gettysburg Times on September 13, 2917, former Gettysburg park ranger John Rice specifically discussed “Is is time to remove Confederate statues in Gettysburg?” His well thought-out piece can be read here.
Both Honea and Rice wrote in response to the Charlottesville murder and the initial rush to take down Confederate monuments. The National Park Service released a notice that year that the Confederates at Gettysburg were going nowhere.
On July 7, 2020, New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer Elliot Ackerman wrote about “The Confederate Monuments We Shouldn’t Tear Down.” Looking at 2017 and violent monument destruction, he quickly reaches the “one point on which the president and his detractors can agree: It should stop at the grave sites and battlefields that are meaningful reminders of our nation’s history.”
Devoting several paragraphs to Gettysburg and its Confederate monuments, Ackerman offers a thoughtful solution to monument removal with which I do not agree, but other people will.
And on Friday, June 26, 2020, the National Park Service was sufficiently concerned about Gettysburg Confederates that it released another statement about them.
Writing at Papost.org on June 29, Nolan Simmons indicated that according to its statement, the NPS “will not alter, relocate, obscure or remove any monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park, even ‘when they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values.’”
The Confederate monuments represent “an ‘important, if controversial, chapter in our nation’s history,’” the NPS stated.
Some monuments, including apparently some Confederate monuments, were “authorized by Congress” or are older than the park, “making them a protected park resource,” Simmons extrapolated from the NPS statement. Only legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the president — or the decision by the National Park Service director — can take down a particular monument, Simmons stressed.
And there’s the rub: Just as Congress allowed specific monuments to be erected in the past, so can a future Congress pass legislation ordering specific monuments removed from Gettysburg. Given the popular mood (as portrayed by the American media) to remove Confederate monuments, could the next Congress vote to strip every such monument and statue from Seminary Ridge?
My theory: If a Frederick Douglass statue rates destruction in someone’s historically illiterate mind, the Confederate monuments and statues at Gettysburg cannot be far behind.
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.