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My Debate Speech on Confederate Statues

32 Comments

In Saturday’s stream of consciousness, I mentioned my participation in a local Braver Angels zoom debate. Below is my three minute speech opposed to the following debate “resolution”:

“Removing statues and monuments will erase important parts of our nation’s history.”

I was one of three people speaking the “con” side of the statement. We had fewer speaking in favor of the statement. One interesting point made by an African American woman disagreeing with the statement was that relocating statues to museums would likely give more opportunity for learning and discussion by visiting school groups, etc. She also talked about subliminal messages and healing.

Braver Angels seeks to depolarize America with workshops and debates intended to foster respect and understanding. We are encouraged to say what we believe and to speak from our own experience. After each prepared speech, people can ask questions of the speaker and responses can be up to one minute. If there’s time, we have “flash speeches” and share what we learned.

This first debate by our local group went well. There was concern from some that if we start removing statues, that other statues and monuments, like the Lincoln Memorial, could also be removed. My question to this was to ask if the speaker thought some statues could be more harmful than others, and that seemed to be a point of agreement. All statues are not the same.

Now, for my speech. (Respectful responses from your own experience and feelings are welcome. )

Hello, thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening

If we remove a statue or monument, we are not erasing history. We cannot change what has already happened. History will still be available…in books, films, and on the internet. Many statues and monuments can be re-located to museums where a much of history is saved, or to private historical sites, cemeteries, or to the families of the artists who created aolstatues.

When I first read the debate resolution, I thought of the confederate statues I’ve seen in downtown Wilmington.

I’ve lived in Wilmington since 1980. All that time, I’ve felt very uncomfortable with the confederate statues glorifying men who fought for slavery. One of the things that bothers me most is the prominence of the statues. If you live anywhere near downtown, you’ve seen these statues on a regular basis. What kind of message do they send?

One example is the prominent 8-foot-tall statue of George Davis recently removed from Market Street. George Davis was the last attorney general of the confederacy.  The pedestal describes George Davis with glowing words like “stainless integrity, virtue, refinement, and the true heart of chivalry in southern manhood. Is this an accurate portrayal of history?  It leaves out the fact that George Davis gave a “… public speech1861 in which he argued that North Carolina should secede from the United States …. to protect (in his words) the economic interest in “chattel slavery.” Chattel slavery in which human beings are bought and sold as property.

I am deeply troubled that this man has been celebrated and honored as a hero for so many years.

When I’ve passed by this statue, and the one on third street honoring the soldiers of the confederacy, my feelings of discomfort and embarrassment linger. I want to cringe at what they represent…..

 I can only imagine what black and brown citizens think and feel when they’ve passed these statues. 

We need to ask ourselves, what people and ideals do we want to honor? Do we want to promote the ideals of the confederacy? Do we want to honor men who fought for slavery and the oppression of a whole race of human beings?

Or do we want to promote values of equality, equity, community, and inclusivity?  ……

The statues representing confederate soldiers and statesmen have stood for many years in prominent positions in our city. But times are changing.

 Maya Angelou wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

It’s time now for our city to move forward, and to honor positive and inclusive ideals.

Thank you for listening.

Author: JoAnna

An open minded, tree-hugging Jesus follower, former counselor, and life-long lover of animals, I'm returning to my creative roots and have published my first book: Trust the Timing, A Memoir of Finding Love Again as well as the short version: From Loneliness to Love.

32 thoughts on “My Debate Speech on Confederate Statues

  1. I have no issue with the maintenance of or removal of any statutes, provided that the electorate has a say. Wanton destruction of statues by a mob is unacceptable.

  2. Excellent. Well-reasoned, succinct. Solid work! Congrats!

  3. My BIGGEST issue is if one group of people find a statue offinse who’s to say naother group won’t find another statue offinse. So who gets to decide what is removed and what stays. History can’t be rewritten, when these statues were built they were built on a belief system that doesn’t represent many Americans today but to we remove every statue that doesn’t represent someone’s belief. It’s not racist, it’s an observation that concerns me. If we start removing and de-facing statues then all statues are on the chopping block. What is the point of that? Why can’t we teach where the monutments are, why can’t kids take a school trip to the statue just the same as the museaum? I don’t think we are glorifing people, we are acknowledging our past and the people who built them felt stongly about their beliefs. I see you side but I know that the other shoe will fall. 🙂

    • Are we going to only put up a statue of a person whom everyone agrees? As statues are being removed, history books are being rewritten. Many changes, additions and omissions that put history into a more acceptable light for the “intelligentsia” who are
      living four or five generations after the fact. I will take the evidence as presented by the historians who lived in or near the times of the occurence. I’m doing a lot of family history. Do you believe my descendants will do a better job a hundred year from now? If one does not want to know facts of history, he chooses to accept opinions of history instead. Good debate points.

      • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Oneta. Facts are very important. Striving to be factual is a goal I think would help. I think that’s why the words on the pedestal bother me so much – they are opinions rather than facts. It’s not easy to focus on facts when we feel strong emotions, but we can still strive for facts going forward and for listening and trying to find common ground.

        • I agree. Those words are opinion. But I think a plaque or “information” post should give the information. That is what many museums do. I agree that some like Lee should be moved to a museum if that is the wishes of the community. I agree with your debate points. Just believe the more one knows the better off he is. There was a statue about fifty miles from where I was raised. It was of a pioneer woman and a child. She was white. Do I want the Indians who live there to be able to take it down? No, I don’t. Is it okay because it is a woman instead of a man. Maybe for me. But I like the fake buffalo and cowboys also. 😀 Love your Maya Angelo quote.

    • I’m glad you felt safe to share your perspective on this, M. I’m in the process of working to understanding the concern that all statues could be on the chopping block. Since I tend to believe anything is possible, I have to admit that is a possibility. For me, it has to do with how much harm the object of the statue has done, and how it is presented, but I also realize that can be subjective. In the case of the two statues that have stood in my city, it would be hard for a group of children to get close to them since they stood on medians the middle of busy streets with two lanes on each side. They could get closer in a museum where the other side of the story could be presented (objectively and factually of course) in the same room or area. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      • It’s a very hot topic, one I don’t usually chime in one but felt it was time to say something. Anything. I’m concerned looking forward, that’s where my focus is. I know as soon as we start chopping down the OFFENSIVE ones, there will be other offinsive ones and so on. 🙂

  4. I always enjoy your wonderful thoughts and words, JoAnne.

  5. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E Lee. These are some whose statues have been suggested for removal, and I don’t agree with removing. Many of the other statues do need to be removed to a museum where they can be put into a historical context. Some of those named above could be put into context by adding a bronze plaque or sign. I agree that in many cases some removals, relocations, and modifications need to be made.

    JoAnna, it seems to me that you made a very well-reasoned and strong presentation in the debate, whether you were expressing your actual views or not. I think that debates are a positive way to make decisions we can live with for years to come

    All the best! Cheryl

    • Thank you, Cheryl. The idea of a contextual plaque or sign is an option. I would hope it would be clearly visible. I hope that we find a way to proceed thoughtfully and in a way that is democratic. I was expressing my actual views. The Braver Angels debates are very structured and the one’s I’ve watched so far have been positive and respectful.

  6. Well reasoned points, JoAnna. I have observed that those who hold the power are the ones who decide who our heroes should be. They are also the ones who write and re-write our history to serve their ends.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Rosaliene. I hope we can evolve to get better at seeking truth more than power, maybe in the way science attempts to do. It’s a challenge, but possible to move in that direction.

  7. Your thoughts and words are reasoned and balanced, JoAnne. Maya’s quote says it perfectly. We will never all agree on everything, yet re-writing history will not bring us any closer to the truth.

  8. A thoughtful speech, JoAnna. This is clearly a controversial issue to which a non-violent solution seems far off.

    • Thank you, Derrick. I’ thankful my city took the initiative to remove (and hide) the two confederate statues before damage was done. I don’t know what the plan is, but I hope and believe we can find a non-violent solution.

  9. I have so many thoughts and no idea where to begin….
    I guess it’s this, a statue is neither evil nor good, it’s a piece of stone or metal. Who they represent…is neither completely good nor completely evil as are any of us but rather people who did in the time in which they lived, did or held to or accomplished things that society now views as “bad” and yet also, did, held to things or accomplished things that were “good”.
    Throwing the baby out with the bath water, the good away with the bad accomplishes as much harm as good. It is not so much the failure of history as the issue of only choosing a part of it to focus on or teach instead of the complete truth of it and them. Instead of a gloried version or demonized version, the whole truth. One man may have owned slaves and that same man was an abolitionist who fought to end slavery. It’s not an oxymoron….they protected those people under their care, insuring their safety and that their families would not be seperated and legal ownership was the only way to ensure it even to leaving them to their heirs in their wills so they remained with family and home.
    To what effect will these be torn down? To what good? A statue, monument or icon need not be a glorification but at times a reminder of histories we wish not to repeat, a marker that paved the way to the progress made that points to the forward direction of where we wish to go still.
    There is a reason why Auschwitz still stands and it’s very much a reminder to the world. Do you know that most college age people have almost no knowledge of the holocaust? There is a reason why people still walk the trail of tears every year.
    We cannot afford “out of site, out of mind”. We must remember and teach the younger generations these cautionary tales, how to recognize the attitudes that we may adopt and where they may lead us. If a statue stands that illicits questions, conversation, teaching moments, a remembrance of where we were, how far we have come and what we must protect ourselves from repeating, then I say they are of greater value to the future than tearing them down to pacify the “feelings” of a few who neither owned a slave, been a slave nor knew of any who have.
    The good, bad and they ugly, is all a part of OUR history…all OUR history together.
    Where does this path end? A couple years ago, Hobby Lobby came under fire for selling decor that had cotton bolls because it was “racist” as slaves picked cotton! Lol. As did any white cotton farm owner, poor white families, all families including children who lived in cotton growing areas! I have photos of my grands, aunts, uncles and all the kids dragging those cotton bags through the fields picking cotton.
    Curiouser still, why are these rioters, protesters, vandals….primarily young white people?

    • Dear Laura, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that no one is all good or all bad and that we need to know the whole truth in history. For years we have had confederate statues in our city that do not tell the whole truth. It’s an interesting point about Auschwitz still standing as a reminder. The concentration and death camps that still exist honor the victims and survivors, not the oppressor. I am not aware of statues of Hitler, though maybe there are some. I would be opposed to those unless maybe they included clearly visible words about what Hitler did – the number of people he put to death because of their heritage. Memorials such as Auschwitz where a terrible history is remembered would be similar to memorials of auction blocks, whipping posts and chains worn by slaves. I believe that is very different from statues of those who fought for slavery, especially statues with pedestals that glorify the oppressor as I have described. Thank you for sharing your perspective and allowing me to share mine.

  10. Ms. A. was very inspiring. Thank you for your post.

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