Confederate monuments like this statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, rise from the earth throughout the South as well as in other regions of the country. “Lee Monument, Monument Avenue & Allen Avenue, Richmond, Independent City, VA.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On Friday evening at the recent meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in Sacramento, OAH President and Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities Edward Ayers led a town-hall meeting titled, “Confederate Monuments: What To Do?” to analyze the problem of memorialization, especially of the Confederacy, and what historians can do to help the nation move forward.[1]

Ayers contextualized the controversy. He said the question of Confederate monuments in public spaces erupted after the murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.[2] He added that it heated up further following the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue erected in New Orleans on February 22, 1884.[3] The murder of a counter-protester at a white supremacist rally around the Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, threw more fuel on the debate in the summer of 2017.[4] Finally, noting the relationship between the monuments and the long-simmering problem of racial injustice that would come to define the session, Ayers mentioned Stephon Clark, an unarmed African American shot by police in Sacramento just a month before.[5]

Ayers orchestrated the conversation by asking questions of the panelists first and, after each response, inviting the audience to participate. The panel included Turkiya Lowe, Chief Historian of the National Park Service; Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia; and John Kuo Wei Tchen, Inaugural Clement A. Price Chair of Public History and Humanities at Rutgers-Newark and member of the New York City’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers.[6] Since the session was meant to facilitate a town-hall discussion, Ayers framed it so as to not privilege panelists’ voices over others. He gave the audience a platform to contribute throughout the meeting.

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

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