Preserve the statues of Confederate officers

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By Thursday, Aug 17 Letters  47 Comments

To the editor:

Not long ago a bust of Caligula went to auction at Christie’s in London. It fetched over a million. It had become art again. Perhaps still seen as a terror of the Roman world who elevated his horse to the senate, the bust has now become a well crafted visage in white marble that has survived for thousands of years and is recognized as fine art.

Last night in Baltimore, and in all likelihood many more cities and towns across America, the life-size bronze equestrian statues of a defeated army are being removed. When these statues were commissioned, they were cast and created by some of the great American sculptors of the day. I would not be surprised if some among them came from the Stockbridge studio of Daniel Chester French.

Do not destroy them. It has been suggested that this be done. Think Indiana Jones and a large warehouse where we can crate those objects no longer helpful to inspire reflection or share their beauty of form with us. Just crate them until passions calm and — with any luck — peace reigns. Otherwise, we are not much better than ISIS in Palmyra, destroying artifacts of a culture with which we disagree.

Passion, even righteous passion, can be destructive. As we struggle in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt to protect our global cultural legacy, let’s make sure we also recognize the need to protect artistic statements in our own back yards.

Susan P. Bachelder

Egremont


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47 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Dan says:

    I agree. Whether we like it or not the Confederacy is part of our history and heritage. These are artifacts of a time gone by, not forgotten and hopefully never repeated.

  2. Bobby Houston says:

    Susan – Commercial statuary of “war heroes” is not art. Sorry.

    1. Keith says:

      Especially when half or more we’re erected to support Dred Scott. Facts are important.

  3. Steve Farina says:

    The removal of the statues is another step in the rewriting of history by the victorious North. When history is rewritten, everyone loses. Even as I read articles about what happened in Charlottesville recently, there is the inevitable sentence stating that the Civil War (which would more appropriately be referred to as the War Between the States ) was about slavery. It makes a great sound bitewhich has been propogated for many decades. However, the simple fact is that the War Between the States was fought to preserve the Union thus solidifying the power structure of the Federal Government in Washington.
    By removing pieces of our history we remove a piece of the fabric of who we are as a nation – good, bad, and indifferent.

    1. that’s not rewriting history. They still existed. They just won’t in the future.

    2. Noel says:

      The Civil War was indeed about preserving the Union…on the victorious side. On the losing side, it was about their “right” to own other human beings. They lost. Those statues were erected in defiance of that loss, and in direct opposition to African Americans taking their rightful place in this country as citizens and not chattel. Losers don’t get monuments. Traitors don’t get monuments. Supremists don’t get monuments. Only in America do we honor the oppressor, the traitors, and the losing side. Those days are hopefully, FINALLY, coming to an end. History remains: in books, in museums, in our bodies. We don’t need statues to remind us. In Germany, the public display of the swastika or any nazi garbage is punishable by jail time. It’s usually just a fine, but it’s unlawful and an arrestable offense. The same should’ve been true for Confederate garbage since the very moment they surrendered. Hopefully we’ll get there. That flag, those statues, that false sense of so-called cultural heritage, all belong in a museum where you go to learn the truth about what they represent. Or, ya know, tear them down, melt them, crush them, and use the remains to build statues and plaques to honor the heroes that fought against, and defeated, the traitorous confederacy. In Germany, they do their best to honor the oppressed. In America, we bend over backwards to honor the oppressor.

      1. Jeffrey says:

        Well said.

      2. Nora Hayes says:

        totally agree with Noel-are we so totally out of touch with our legacy of slavery?! What do those statues represent to our black citizens?!

  4. kritterz says:

    There is a statue on 23rd street in Washington….is that not art?

  5. Joseph Method says:

    I agree that they shouldn’t be destroyed. But as for the suggestion that they should be uncrated when “passions calm”– no. What isn’t being acknowledged is that these statues aren’t “just history”. They were erected as warning signs to black people during the era of Reconstruction and later. Their message was, we may have “lost” the war but we still control things around here. It’s obvious from Charlottesville that that’s how they still function as symbols. For the same reason that Germany doesn’t have statues to Nazis around we can’t afford to have statues around that promote the myth of the Lost Cause.

    1. Richard Allen says:

      So it’s okay to have statues honoring the winners but not the losers?

      1. Joseph Method says:

        Umm yes, if the winners were also righteous.

      2. Thunder Box says:

        This isn’t the Olympics. There’s no silver medal for being a traitor.

  6. John Cheek says:

    Most of the statues were erected long after the war, as Joseph above points out more to intimidate people of color than to glorify those who fought for the south. General Lee himself did not want them. It was the time of the institution of Jim Crow and of lynchings. I grew up in North Carolina where there are more than 60 of these monuments, 6 of which are on the grounds of the State capitol in Raleigh. What message does this send to people of color? The history we were taught in school was absurdly whitewashed in all senses of that word. My hometown Wilmington had the only successful coup of a city government in US history in 1898. The re constructionist government was overthrown by white supremacists and many black people were murdered and others driven from the city. This history was never taught until recently. There are no monuments to those who died. I’m not opposed to moving the statues or putting them in context, but the current situation is not acceptable.

    1. Tom says:

      Thanks for speaking to the REAL truth of the issue. Well said.

  7. Richard Allen says:

    I agree with Susan. I see no point in destroying something that isn’t harming me, except by offending some viewpoint that I hold. That is a form of opinion control that has no place in our democratic system. If you think it’s wrong to suppress ideas (for example, through restricting freedom of speech), why is it okay to suppress them when they take physical rather than verbal form?
    Rash reactions like those taking place this week almost always turn out to be wrong-headed.
    Richard Allen
    North Egremont

    1. Cynthia Pease says:

      Being against racism and all of the history that that implies is NOT a viewpoint. It is a worldview. The consecration of those statues harms a large proportion of the population of this country. You don’t have to see them every day. Would you ask a Jewish person to have to pass a statue of Hitler looking heroic every day? They aren’t art; they are monuments to racism and they must go.

      1. Brian says:

        Exactly. It’s good to be intolerant of intolerance.

  8. Noel says:

    The fact that the confederate states fought violently for the right to own other humans, people who are and have been American citizens, is not an opinion. It is an established fact. It’s also a fact that the confederacy lost. It’s also a fact that you cannot find a single public monument to the nazis or hitler in Germany. Not because a statue of hitler would offend “some viewpoint”, but because a statue of commentating the nazis or hitler would be offensive to Germans, Germany, the German citizens who were massacred(you know, Jews, The Holocaust), the Germans who resisted, and just about the rest of the world…with notable and notorious exceptions, of course: the people who would argue “opinion” and non-attachment to the central issues at hand. The fact that these statues were ever erected, and have stood for so long-in commemoration of racists and traitors-is an affront to the citizenry of our country. It’s time for them to go.

    1. Justin says:

      Can we burn some books later????

  9. Susan Bachelder says:

    Interesting responses but this was about the art. Not the people who paid for it. Not the people who like it, or don’t like it now. Not the ideas it embodied at the time it was made, how they have been distorted, and what it reflects about us. Whether it is now attached to negative and abhorrent philosophies is exactly what must be kept away from the art itself. As this period in American art and sculpture was particularly fertile, here is an example of what I am talking about. The statue of Gen. John Gordon by Solon Borglum installed at the state capitol in Atlanta Ga. in 1907. Borglum was born to a Doctor in the Utah territory who moved to Paris to study art in the 1890’s. He returned to the US and established a successful career in America. Known mostly for his western studies – Cowboys were pretty exotic in Paris and he achieved great success there enlarging on this stereotype, his representational equestrian statuary was done at a time when public art was fashionable. He is known for the Rough Rider monument in Az. and this statue of Gen. Gordon, among many other important works. He spent most of his professional career in Ct. and died in Stamford Ct. in 1922. This story I am sure is not unique to the situation now facing many of the statues in question throughout the south. I do believe that the destruction of art is a travesty no matter how righteous the anger, or where it occurs. Many find a lot of art these days offensive, but its destruction accomplishes nothing.

    1. Noel says:

      bending over backwards to equivocate doesn’t add to the conversation, it illustrates the problem. You cannot divorce the cultural significance from the physical statue. That’s an excuse. Never mind that the subject of the statue stood for the subjugation and enslavement of the ancestors of American citizens, itsn’t it just a lovely piece of art? You’d put that above the humanity of other people? We get it. Interesting way to put it. Re: the initial comment about the bust of Caligula: show me the line you draw from Caligula and modern time. Please. Ancient history and its artifacts are just that: ancient, with no direct line to events of the present. The same cannot be said of confederate relics, be they statues, or the names of publicly funded schools, parks, etc. I reject the notion that the physical monuments, statues transcend their original intention.

    2. Bobby Houston says:

      Highly disingenuous to insist that art exists in an aesthetic vacuum. It doesn’t. And guess what else – most art is disposable. It’s a commodity – just ask Sotheby’s. It serves a purpose, has a cash value (or not) and survives or doesn’t based entirely on its value.

      Generic equestrian symbols of Jim Crow now have a negative value – they are worth less than the public space they occupy.

      The analogy to Hitler statues being unacceptable to Jews is clear and it wins. Take ’em down. Show some respect for our black folk.

      1. Joseph Method says:

        That’s pretty extreme. Art has intrinsic value aside from market value. And it simply is true that a statue can be aesthetically pleasing but symbolically repugnant.

  10. Stephen L. Cohen says:

    Many of these monuments may have no artistic value, but Susan’s point to preserve them as art is well taken. That said, they should not be in places that show that we honor the confederacy and what it stood for. Storing them, or finding art museums that would accept them, may be alternative solutions. What is clear is that they should not be in prominent positions which in any way show any veneration for the participants in this most heinous part of our history. As a Jew, I can only think how I would feel walking past a statue of Hitler in a public park,no matter beautifully crafted. It is inconceivable how our African American neighbors must feel as they have seen confederate generals on a pedestal for their entire lives, one hundred and fifty years after the civil war.

  11. Susan Pettee, Great Barrington, MA says:

    I agree with Stephen Cohen that the Confederate officer statues should be preserved, but in a museum where their artistry can be appreciated in the context of what their subjects fought for, the “states’ right” to possess other human beings as property. It is obnoxious revisionism to call the Civil War “the war of northern aggression.” For starters, who fired on whom at Fort Sumter? The war was about slavery; my two great grandfathers, from Maine and Massachusetts, who fought in it certainly thought so.
    Susan Bachelder’s point about Caligula is interesting, but I have seen that we are still too close to the Civil War, especially in the South, to see these statues purely as art. Perhaps in two thousand years our descendants may be able to view them as sculpture, devoid of connotation. In the meantime, leaving such statues on pedestals in public places implies that they deserve veneration. (At the moment the closest we have to the deranged Caligula is not Robert E. Lee but the current inhabitant of the White House.)

  12. Gene says:

    Ah, Susan. You always offer interesting commentary to get folks thinking! So many who live in the Berkshires see things only in “black and white,” no pun intended. In reality, so many issues of the day are “gray” — with both sides making fair points. As for statuary ART, where does this all end? There are statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both who were slave holders at one time. Should they be torn down? While it is a fair argument that Confederate statues might be removed from PUBLIC sites, they should not be destroyed. Some of the statuary was created by highly regarded artists. And where does it all stop? Will the artists who were commissioned to create these statues soon be labeled “racist”? Dare I mention that David Richards, the sculptor who created the beloved Great Barrington Newsboy Statue, also sculpted a monument to the Confederate soldier that stands in Savannah , Georgia. Will Mr. Richards be labeled a racist, and all his works be destroyed? What a mixed up world we live in – it scares the hell out of me sometimes. So many are so unwilling to consider both sides of a story.

    1. Thunder Box says:

      All slave owners who have statues should come down. No one should be honored for having human beings as captive.

  13. Leonard Quart says:

    Preserve them in storage if they are art rather than mere homages to military heroes and politicos. But Eastern Europe didn’t want to keep Stalin statues in every square and Germany isn’t maintaining monuments to Hitler and Goebbels in public view. General Lee may not be Stalin, but he served a society based on slavery–a heinous. murderous institution. No arguing that fact away.

  14. Eddie Sporn says:

    Is there a country in the world that honors the leaders of a rebellion that resulted in the deaths of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of soldiers and UNTOLD MISERY for large segments of the civilian population? Perhaps this rebellion had a righteous case? No, it was to protect the “southern way of life”, i.e. to subjugate fellow HUMAN BEINGS.
    The statues were erected to show the freed slaves and all those fighting for their equality under law that although the war had been lost, the losing side still maintained the power to subjugate them through segregation and terror.
    For more on this, read Great Barrington’s great W. E. B. DuBois. BTW, where is his statue in Great Barrington?

  15. George Klemp says:

    So put them in a museum where they can be remembered whether you consider them art or not (which I do not). One can disagree with a civilization like Palmyra but this is no reason to destroy its artifacts due to “religious fervor”. Same with our society. There are no statues of Nazi officers in any public square on Germany, but there are memorials to the victims everywhere. We should not forget the forces that unleashed the war between the states, but we need not glorify sedition in the form of its perpetrators.

  16. Sharon says:

    Confederate Monuments and Statues honor and glorify people that killed US Servicemen in the Civil War. They called themselves Soldiers of the Confederate States, they were American Traitors fighting AGAINST the US Armed Forces and it is UNPATRIOTIC to honor such people and those that embrace the Confederate are UN AMERICAN.
    No one that kills US Servicemen should be honored in any way, no matter the reason. Traitors that kill our Servicemen should be mentioned in history books and shamed in public. IT IS JUST THAT SIMPLE!

  17. Jeff J. says:

    In America people that killed US Servicemen should NOT BE HONORED or CELEBRATED, it’s that simple. There’s no two ways about that. History books can tell the story. But in the country that won the war, we should NEVER Honor people that killed our Servicemen. PERIOD!

  18. Leonard Quart says:

    Lee on statues: “I think it wiser,” he wrote in an 1869 letter, “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
    Also, a number of the statues were put up long after the Civil War to reinforce Jim Crow.

  19. Richard W Wise says:

    Personally I see Robert E. Lee as a soft target, really the wrong target. Lee was a brilliant strategist respected by both sides. This is political correctness taken too far that produced little by way of positive results and provided a cause for the extreme right to rally around. The comparison between Washington Lee is absurd. Both Lee and Washington held slaves, but Washington’s humane policy of refusing to break up families eventually led to the near bankruptcy of Mt. Vernon. Washington recognized that only extreme cruelty could make slavery economically viable. Only about a third of his slaves were capable of doing productive work. The other two-thirds were either too young or too old. Lee apparently considered slaves property and treated them rather cruelly. Three of our first four (add Jefferson and Madison) presidents kept slaves. They have, in retrospect been criticized, some have called them hypocrites because the all were against slavery. This sort of, looking back over the shoulder, criticism ignores a number of facts that existed during those times including laws in Virginia requiring freed slaves to leave the state and anti-black laws in other states limiting the rights of ex-slaves. Madison and Jefferson believed that after emancipation, black and white could never live together in peace. Both advocated ending slavery and sending the freed slaves back to Africa. As for the claim that Lee saved his country? If Lee had been successful he would have destroyed the USA and he came damned close.

  20. C. d'Alessandro says:

    The descendants of Robert E. Lee have weighed in strongly in support of the removal of his statue, preferably to a museum. They have loudly denounced bigotry, and have pointed out that Lee worked hard for the repair and strengthening of the union after the war. History contains more than its share of shameful periods as well as some wonderful and inspiring moments. The incidents surrounding the crimes in Charlottesville and the hate crimes occurring across the country and the world now are unacceptable and abhorrent. And they make mockery of the fact that the equal rights of all people have been fought and died for in this country. Great works of art have historical significance as well as artistic merit and should be preserved. But clearly they must not serve as any governmental support for alternative history, or in support of a return to a time where the subjugation and denigration of people was in any way acceptable.

  21. Carl Stewart says:

    A few points and some criticism:

    1. I think Susan Bachelder could have stated her position a bit more clearly. She is not advocating for the retention of this statuary in public places; only that the statues be moved to a museum or a storage place and not be destroyed. That seems an entirely reasonable resolution of the controversy.

    2. Bobby Houston is not the arbiter of what is and isn’t art. And he makes the silly statement that because the statues are of people he doesn’t approve of then they can not have artistic value, which is utter nonsense. Are Wagner’s operas and Ezra Pound’s poetry without merit because they both were anti-Semites? Should the BSO no longer perform Wagner because of his politics? Should Pound (and TS Eliot, for that matter) have their poetry removed from public libraries? Values are constantly changing and according to Mr. Houston’s theory, we need to have thought police to determine what we should be able to see and what is unworthy.

    3. The Civil War, contrary to Steve Farina’s view, was not a war fought to preserve the Union. The simple fact, which Mr. Farina would know if he were paying attention in high school history class, is that the North fought to preserve the Union and the South fought to preserve slavery. There is absolutely no moral equivalency between the two sides but Farina is in “good” company because his hero Trump, as well as the execrable Paul LePage of Maine, believe that there is.

    4. The fact that a significant part of our population views Civil War statuary as symbols of Jim Crow, the KKK, lynching, castration, terrorism, and the like, is enough reason to remove these symbols from the public marketplace. No one in Germany would argue that there should be public memorials to Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Eichmann. Or to Mussolini in Italy. (Well, a few Germans believe that there should be memorials to Hitler and his crew but keep in mind that displaying a swastika in Germany is a crime and is not considered to be protected speech.)

    5. Perhaps we might agree that the best time to discuss this particular issue is not within a week of the terror in Charlottesville. I believe…and it is my hope…that a significant number of Southerners, perhaps even a majority, would agree that the public display of figures who were, in fact, traitors to their country is inappropriate. The leaders of the CSA were treated very leniently after the War; hanging was the prescribed punishment at the time.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Carl, you seem to have a knack for offending everyone, lol. I will only address your comments directed at me.
      1. The simple fact is that the North fought to preserve the union, the South fought to preserve the sovereign rights of the States. I need not remind you that at the time, slaves were considered property…in fact today, slaves are still considered property – we have as a society eradicated African slavery, but there are other forms of slavery throughout our society and the world which are still perpetrated through human trafficking.
      The Constitution,as it read then, was being disregarded and the southern states seceded. In his inaugural address Jefferson Davis states:
      “Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”
      In Lincoln’s 1st inaugural address he states this about Senator Crittenden’s proposed amendment which would support slavery: ” I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” In fact, he bent over backwards to show he was not against slavery, but instead was completely opposed to the dissolution of the Union.
      You are correct that the North fought to preserve the union. You missed the point of the Secession of the South – and still today the Federal Government trumps the States rights because the North won. (Pipeline one Sandisfield anyone?).
      As for President Trump being my hero…far from it. Perhaps you should read, and think, about my comments including the call for respectful dialog even among those who have differing opinions.
      PS: my personal belief is that slavery which was forced upon the African people is a huge disgrace to humanity, as is the human trafficking that still exists today. I also do not in any fashion support the beliefs of the racists who have stirred up this controversy, though I do believe they also have a right to Free Speech – accepting diversity does not mean only allowing those who agree with us to be allowed to express their opinions, it can be allowed without condoning and supporting the belief.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Carl, I apologize for the swipe about you offending everyone. It was intended to be humor, but upon reflection I see it as being in direct opposition to my statement about treating each other with respect. I was not offended by your comments, and cannot speak for others. I am sorry for the statement, and hope we can continue future dialog on issues with civility and respect.

  22. kritterz says:

    Not to well written…..,.,..,Show some respect for Our blackFolk

  23. Mickey Friedman says:

    All art isn’t “art” – those who make art acknowledge that some of what they’ve, we’ve done is better and some worse, some far less successful. Those artists who made art glorifying those who fought to preserve slavery might in retrospect be the first to suggest recycling their materials … What purpose does this art serve these days other than attempt to humiliate black people and portray in public these men as heroic men who killed to preserve slavery? I could understand keeping them if these monuments provided context, if they taught us something about who these men really were. If we saw Confederate soldiers killing Union soldiers, for example. Illuminating the real horror of that war. Was this art really made as “art” – to me much of it hardly provides new or compelling insight into the souls of these men. If it comes to calculating the pain these statues inflict versus the intrinsic value of their artistry, I’d vote for removing them to some far corner of The Civil War Wing of The American Museum of Man’s Inhumanity To Man and charging an admission fee … so we can fund and begin building The Continuing Crimes Against Native Americans Wing …

  24. James M. says:

    What is the distinction between art and craftsmanship?

  25. Pete says:

    The statues should be taken down and put in a museum, maybe sell them back to the Daughters of the Confederacy who can display them in a private setting. Use the money for something worthwhile in whatever community. sellls them. The Nazis and white supremists could care less about these statues and have used the controversy to garner attention to themselves. My father who fought against the Nazis would be outraged at this confluence of anti American sentiment. I cannot believe there are people marching around with Nazi flags and torches. Whatever political believes you hold, these people art anti American, and we need to speak out.

  26. Joseph Method says:

    A similar argument in the
    New York Times: https ://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/arts/design/we-need-to-move-not-destroy-confederate-monuments.html

  27. Thunder Box says:

    These statues were erected during the Jim Crow era and many more were erected as the fight for civil rights was going on to intimidate and put fear into Black people.

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