Commentary: Confederate Monuments Debate Suggests Unfinished Business With The Past

(This commentary by Jodi Campbell, TCU professor and chair of history, first aired on KERA 90.1 FM.)

photo of Robert E. Lee statue

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was recently removed from a park in Dallas formerly named in his honor. (Ocuish / Wikimedia Commons)

As Dallas considers changes to monuments, streets and schools named for Confederate leaders, the city of Austin has joined a growing movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day. TCU history professor Jodi Campbell finds the debates constructive, but thinks it may be more valuable to look at the questions behind them.

It’s surprising how intense the debate can become over historical monuments, when we ordinarily don’t pay much attention to them.

This is in part because, like most monuments, they’re not controversial. We’re often content to accept monuments as representing elements of our past.  No one would argue for tearing down Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles, even though it’s a monument to absolute monarchy; admiring the Aztec temples of Mexico City doesn’t mean approving of human sacrifice.

Great historical accomplishment always comes at a cost to someone. Until we can acknowledge both the accomplishment and the suffering that paid for it, we won’t agree on what our monuments stand for.

Read more here.