Defacing monuments is wrong! Stop doing it!

Statue of Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, after being defaced.
Image Source: Courtesy and copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Statue dedicated to “Confederate Defenders of Charleston” in White Point Garden, Charleston, SC, after being defaced.
Image Source: TWITTER/PHILIP WEISS via The Root

The above acts of monument defacement are wrong. I hope the people who did this will just stop. The defacing of public monuments is unacceptable, and we should all righteously condemn the people who are responsible.

I have heard some people speculate that these were the acts of white supremacists. The theory goes that, like alleged serial killer Dylann Roof, these folks are trying to incite a race war by doing things which cause the ire and anger of various ethnic groups. I do not know if this theory is correct. I have nothing to say to such people, except that what they did was wrong and condemnable.

Some say these were the acts of foolish young people, who had nothing better to do than vandalize public property. I do not know if this is true. I have nothing to say to such people, except that what they did was wrong and condemnable.

Some say that this was indeed the work of “Black Lives Matter” activists, and that for various reasons, they decided to place their message on Confederate monuments. For them, I have two comments, beyond the usual statement that two wrongs don’t make a right.

First: the defacement of public memorials sets a horrible precedent. Once it becomes “OK” to vandalize some monuments, it opens the floodgates to vandalizing any and all of them. So, for example, we might see tit-for-tat or copycat defacements of memorials to the Underground Railroad or Civil Rights workers. Do we really want that to happen? I hope not.

Second: the use of vandalism is an ineffective and counter-productive way to put forth the message that black lives matter. The method used to deliver the message overshadows, cheapens, and debases the message. The people who see this stuff will not get the idea that black lives matter. The message they get is that the folks who did this are disrespectful, unlawful, uncaring, and self-serving idiots. For many people, these acts serve only to reinforce the idea that black people are nothing but thugs.

Simply put, there is no righteous justification for these acts of vandalism and defacement. All of us should reject and condemn them. Surely there are other, more creative ways of non-violent protest to advance the cause of positive change.

EDIT: Some have suggested that what we see above are, in effect, protests against these monuments (as opposed to agitation for the “Black Lives Matter” cause). Let me provide my comments on that.

I support the idea of engaging in discussions about the appropriateness of these monuments in today’s public spaces. To those who are committed, I say go ahead and build movements that advance the case and cause for change, and at least try to see if some type of democratic process can be used to affect that change.

But I do not support defacement as an appropriate means of protesting against monuments that many of us don’t like. Other citizens have rights, too. They have as much a right to support these monuments as others have to reject them. Vandalism and defacement serve only to delegitimize fair protest, it ruins objects that are fairly called works of art, and which, for good or ill, say something about our history. And, as mentioned above, these acts can lead to the general feeling that any memorial that anybody finds objectionable can be defaced and vandalized.

Regarding the defacement of memorials: just don’t it. Don’t even think about it. It is wrong.

Virginia Brochure Touts “Richmond Burning”: Emancipation as a Tourist Destination

From the “On to” website.

I had to do a double-take when I saw it. In big letters and bold colors, this Virginia travel brochure seems to loudly – and proudly – say that, yes, Richmond burned to advance the cause of freedom – and you ought to come visit and check it out.

The above image is from a travel brochure by the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau in partnership with the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Petersburg Area Regional Tourism. In 2009, they launched the Web site, which is titled after the Union battle cry, “On to Richmond!” The website has Civil War and Emancipation itineraries for landmarks and other items of interest in the Richmond/Petersburg area.

Two things are of interest to me. First, this brochure is not just marketing the Civil War to tourists; it is marketing the Civil War and Emancipation to tourists. They are positioned as two searate and equally important themes which might draw a visitor’s interest.

Second, I am surprised at how aggressively the Emancipation narrative is used to attract visitors. To be sure, many Confederate sites and landmarks are identified in the brochure; in addition to places related to slavery and freedom, such as the Richmond Slave Trail, the Slavery Reconciliation Statue, and the Black History Museum Cultural Center of Virginia. But, a travel brochure that seems to glorify the burning of Richmond to achieve the goal of freedom might be seen as incendiary to some folks; so, too, might be the use of a Union battle cry to name a site about southern tourism. Although I take no offense at these myself. (Note that, the cities of Richmond and Petersburg have majority African American populations.)

But I do think that this approach to promoting the Sesquicentennial, which offers inclusion for the African Americans and many non-southerners, is positive and useful. There is more to the Civil War than just emancipation and freedom; and there’s more to emancipation and freedom than just the Civil War. While these things are clearly related, and interrelated, there are aspects of each that deserve their own consideration, commemoration, and reflection.

I wonder how successful this particular promotional campaign has been in attracting visitors to the area? I suspect that the pull of such materials will get stronger as the anniversary of the final Emancipation Proclamation approaches, and as the role of black soldiers (who were not widely used as combatants before 1863) comes into focus.