Republished from 25 September 2017
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” William Shakespeare
While I can “take a knee” in a statement of solidarity opposing injustice, I cannot see the vandalism and removal of monuments as other than a needless, divisive distraction. Louisville has hungry children, violent streets, degraded neighborhoods, insufficient housing, declining public health, polluted creeks, weak public transit, and under-trained/educated labor. This divisive distraction ameliorates none of these problems. We have important work to do. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted and divided. We cannot let the intentions of racists, now dead for fifty to one hundred years, dominate the present. The devisiveness of this monumental dispute fractures our community, and the vandalism of monuments invites retaliation. Imagine the escalation of tension should racists vandalize Freedom Park, defiling the work of Charles Parrish, Blaine Hudson, and many more. Freedom Park was purposely located across the street from the Confederate monument to put into context our ugly history. Blaine Hudson, in his 2002 press statement referenced the totality of our history: “What we hope to do with Freedom Park is to put all the historical information on the table and develop an interpretation that reflects as accurately as possible the totality of the Civil War…”. We have diminished the power of Freedom Park by removing the Confederate monument. (And then there is the question of our imposing a monument of our ugly history upon the black community of Brandenburg KY. Can’t imagine they appreciated our ‘gift’.)
We must not forget slavery, the Civil War, the KKK, and the institutional and personal racism of yesterday and today. We need the reminder of monuments that are found all over the United States, north and south, placed by unionist and confederate sympathizers. Even as the Jewish community invested heavily in preserving and re-interpreting Auschwitz, Bełżec, Birkenau, Treblinka, and other symbols of brutality, so too must we re-interpret symbols of our history.
Our history is our shared story. That remembered story should unite us to move forward undivided, undistracted, to do the hard work of addressing together oppression, injustice, hunger, violence, neighborhoods, housing, and health; creating a cleaner, greener, more just Louisville; creating a better tomorrow for all. Let’s not be distracted from the work of re-creating Louisville.
Twelve of our first fifteen presidents were slave owners. The first being Washington (317 slaves). The last, surprisingly, Ulysses S Grant (1, his wife owned another 4). Where will we draw the purging line?
And William Shakespeare? “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Castleman, Clark, Jefferson, Prentice, Washington and many others should be remembered both for their good and their ill deeds.
One hundred years from now you and I will be judged by values which will condemn us in our earth vandalism.
An unspoken truth is that it is impossible to be raised in the USofA, no matter what the color of our skin, and not be to some degree racist. So let he who is without fault cast the first stone. We are all racists. The sooner we all embrace that truth, the sooner we embrace one another. Rather than cast stones, we need to build a house undivided. We have work to do. Let’s get back to work, hand in hand.