On Sunday, in Charleston, South Carolina’s White Point Garden, vandals struck the Fort Sumter Memorial, a neoclassical paean to the Confederate defenders of the city. They spray-painted the phrases “Black lives matter” and “This is the problem #racist.” Two days later, the Calhoun Monument, which stands in Marion Square just blocks from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was similarly defaced. The word “racist” was painted in red near the base of the towering tribute to the South Carolina statesman, a dogged defender of both slavery and the Old South. Protestors also modified the engraved testament on the 1896 monument, which reads “Truth Justice and the Constitution,” by scrawling the words “and Slavery.”
Some people have cheered this vandalism. Others, including New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and students at the University of Texas at Austin, have gone further. They insist that Confederate and proslavery monuments deserve the same fate as the Confederate battle flag and should be taken down. There are good reasons to get rid of these monuments, but there are better reasons to leave them up.
Over the past week, as the country has reeled from the murder of nine African American worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Confederate symbols that still dot the Southern landscape have come under increasing scrutiny. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley altered her stance on the Confederate flag that flies on the state capitol grounds and called for its removal. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley also took steps to disassociate his state from its secessionist past, ordering four Confederate banners to be taken down from the Alabama Confederate Monument on Capitol Hill in Montgomery. Meanwhile, protestors from Baltimore, Maryland, to Asheville, North Carolina, to Austin, Texas, have vandalized statues that pay honor to the Confederacy and those who fought for it.