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The Racist Manipulation of History

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The historian Ana Lucia Araujo has a good essay on Confederate monuments and how to respond to the idea that taking them down or renaming things named after these racist traitors is “erasing our history.”

America said goodbye and good riddance this month to yet another monument glorifying the Confederacy and lying about history on public grounds.

Visitors to Fort Monroe, the historic site where the first Africans arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1619, will no longer see the name of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, displayed across its famous archway.

Removing Davis’ name is an important rejection of the manipulation of history. The individuals behind the archway sought to fulfill their political agenda by honoring a secessionist government, promoting white supremacy and denying the realities of slavery in the United States. Confederate monuments don’t preserve “our history,” like some falsely argue. They instrumentalize the past to maintain a nostalgia for a white ethnostate in the public space. And as long as they stand on public grounds, this nation will never heal from its painful past with slavery.

The creation of Jefferson Davis Memorial Park and installation of the controversial archway bearing his name did not occur until the 1950s—not coincidentally when African Americans were fighting for equal legal and civil rights. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group responsible for the creation of many Confederate monuments unveiled during the Jim Crow era, spearheaded the initiative.

It was a blatant move to conceal Fort Monroe’s significance to the history of the slave trade and the fight for emancipation, as well as the truth about Davis.

Here’s the real history: Located in Hampton, Virginia, Fort Monroe comprises Old Point Comfort, the spot where the first documented group of enslaved Africans brought from West Central Africa were disembarked in August 1619. The site embodies the birth of slavery in colonial North America, but it is also a symbol of freedom. During the Civil War, it was a station for Union troops, where enslaved men, women and children sought shelter to escape slavery.

As for Davis, he was a slave owner and supporter of slavery. During the Civil War, which was led by Southern states to preserve slavery, he became the president of the Confederacy. One century later, his name became artificially associated with Fort Monroe simply because he was imprisoned there for treason by the Union.

Getting rid of what are physical manifestations of powerful lies that influence the present and tell people false stories about our past should be a top priority for all progressives. We slowly are making progress on this front, even in the face of rising fascism.

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