History: You don’t change the course of history by turning the faces of portraits to the wall. – Jawaharlal Nehru
When I looked up at the carving of the three Confederate leaders at Stone Mountain, Ga., in the late 1950s, I was impressed with the size and detail in the portrayals.
It was a time of civil unrest, but we in South Dakota were largely untouched by the strife. Furthermore, I had no idea that the creator of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, had drawn up the plan for the Stone Mountain memorial and had even started the work before a falling out pushed him toward South Dakota.
Nor did I know, then, that Borglum had an association with the Ku Klux Klan, which he later disavowed.
Which brings me to the question: Where is the line when it comes to removing reminders of our nation’s painful and flawed history?
Does pulling down a statue of Robert E. Lee erase the awful issue of slavery in the War Between the States? Or does it, as some argue, at least remove a monument that honors a leader who was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of morality?
As a historical footnote, the Civil War, for many Southerners, wasn’t as much about slavery as states rights. There were those who opposed slavery, but didn’t believe the federal government had the right to dictate to a state what it could and couldn’t do, especially if it wasn’t spelled out in the Constitution.
Secession was their response, and it was the wrong one.
States have banned the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of racism. Now the statues of Lee, Jefferson Davis and other leaders are under siege. Political candidate Stacey Abrams of Georgia has called for the removal of the Stone Mountain monument.
So again, where is the line? Is Mount Rushmore on the list, since both Washington and Jefferson owned slaves?
Sound wacky? I am beginning to wonder. Late last week there were calls for statues of Washington and Jefferson to be removed from public places. I feel confident if such an effort is directed at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota law enforcement will be more effective than their counterparts in Charlottesville or Baltimore. Destruction of public property is still viewed as a crime here.
History is valuable if we learn from it. Future generations cannot learn from a sanitized version, in books or in public parks.
Let the statues be. They are an integral part of America’s story, including the warts.
Aug. 23 2017