To the editor:
We need to carefully consider the recent trend in our society to remove statues of former presidents and generals who do not meet the standard criteria for political correctness in our time. We are using the wrong criteria to evaluate the character of these men.
Any responsible historian will tell you that you simply cannot fairly judge the character of someone who lived over a hundred years ago by the standards of our present time. We are all products of our time. The 19th century was a time of profound ignorance where race was concerned.
There may have been abolitionists, pro-union, anti-slavery activists, but virtually none of them would have argued for the innate equality of the black and white races. Lincoln didn’t, William Lloyd Garrison didn’t, Harriet Beecher Stowe didn’t. Each of these historical figures believed wholeheartedly that slavery was wrong, immoral and unjust but they did not believe in the equality of the races.
They did in fact believe in a racial hierarchy, that certain races were innately superior to others. This anachronism of belief lasted well into the 20th century. It is part of the philosophy Nazism was based on. It is wrong in every way, but they believed it.
I am not in favor of tearing down statues of leaders like Robert E. Lee. I am in favor of taking down statues of William Quantrill, William Anderson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, all of whom were criminals, racists and murderers. Robert E. Lee was against slavery’s extension into new territories and believed it would and should die out eventually.
He turned down an offer by President Lincoln to lead the Union Army only because he could not take up arms against his home state of Virginia. He was a man of honor, decency, courage, and integrity. He graduated second in his class at West Point. He received not one demerit while he was there for four entire years. He was a product of his time, however, as are all of us.
He, like Lincoln, did not believe in the innate equality of blacks and whites. He mistakenly believed that whites were superior. And he did choose the wrong side in the Civil War.
I am in favor of putting statues up ... everywhere. Let’s put a statue of Frederick Douglass next to Robert E. Lee and one of Harriet Tubman next to George Washington, and one of Sojourner Truth next to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Let’s have a statue of W.E.B. Dubois on the University of Alabama campus. Let us tell the whole story of race in America, not part of it. And finally let us preserve the memory of the great but flawed men of our history.