Opinion: Over the last few weeks social media, mainstream media, and conversations in Texarkana have been divided concerning the Confederate Mothers Monument in downtown Texarkana. One side views the monument as heritage, history, and part of the beauty of the historic district of the town. The other side views it as a symbol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As one local media outlet stated, about the only thing anyone agreed on was to disagree.
If we honestly look at the facts, and we look at them objectively as well, all sides have a valid point. Regardless of the initial reasoning for the war, by the end of the Civil War slavery had clearly become the focus. An open and honest look at history will find that there were more slaves in the south than in the north, and the abolitionist in the form of the Republican Party pushed to promote freedom from slavery. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did free slaves in the south. During the immediate years following the war, Republican officials oversaw the work of reconstruction and when they left, Jim Crow Laws were put in place with the specific design to elevate the white population over the African-American population. There is no doubt that racism lived on in the United States as a whole, but it was clearly concentrated in the former Confederate states where segregation was a battleground in such places as Little Rock, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Whether it was right, wrong, or simply the perceived and accepted viewpoint, the former Confederate States became equated by society at large with slavery, racism and white supremacy.
On the other side, the view of many in the south of history and heritage is not entirely wrong either. When the war started, there were five slave states that remained in the Union. Consequently, those slaves were not freed by Lincoln’s Proclamation. The south and the Confederacy was built on slave labor and the cultivation and sale of cotton. It should also be noted that the majority of the soldiers fighting for the south never owned slaves – a historical fact that can be proven by records. Diaries from both sides of the war clearly support the idea that southern soldiers felt like they were being invaded and fought for their homes. In the north, many diary entries express the feeling they were fighting to preserve the Union only. Some northern diaries even noted when the Proclamation was released, that they were not fighting to end slavery. Unlike today, this time saw people more dedicated to their states than to the United States as a whole. Many soldiers, on both sides, waited to see how their state would decide before joining any army. Once a man’s home state decided either the Confederacy or the Union, that man usually joined the army for that side in the war. Much like today, politics and loyalties were very different during the 1860s. The majority of the men who ended up fighting for the south simply had a view of defending their homes. In the end, they lost and that is the history of it.
After the war was over, we all know the story. The country tried to move on and healing was a critical part of that time. By the 1890s and early 1900s, soldiers from both sides of the war began to die. It was during this time that Union and Confederate statues went up around the country. A close look at the request, reasons, and speeches surrounding the fundraising and dedication day of these monuments will show few addressed anything such as racism or white supremacy. Most honored the soldiers, the families, the sacrifices made by both sides. Admittedly, there were some dedications where racism was the focus of the event and the statue or monument. L,ater organizations like the KKK and other white supremacist organizations would hold rallies at the Confederate Monuments and place their own claim to them. This push made Confederate statues and monuments become accepted as racist in nature and design regardless of the original intent.
The fact is there are no perfect people or nations in the history of the world. Slavery and the implementation of that institution into the United States was a horrendous time period. It started in the colonies and did not end until eight months after the Civil War. We now accept that the war pushed the eventual end of slavery in the United States. From the colony days up through the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s African American people have been enslaved, treated as second class, segregated, lynched, ignored, and pushed out of society as a whole. For example, in WWI our African American troops were not allowed to serve under United States Officers. Instead of serving officers from their own country, they had to serve French and British officers. In Texarkana, in 1892 and 1898, just twenty years before the Confederate Mothers Monument would be dedicated, two African-American men were lynched on Broad street with no trial and no court judgment. The two lynchings, right in Texarkana, are considered two of the three worst lynchings in the state of Arkansas.
Both sides have strong points concerning the Confederate Mothers Monument. But both sides must recognize that no former slaves are alive today and no former Confederates or their mothers are alive today. The time of the dedication and the event of raising that monument is over one hundred years old. As we look at it as a divided community, I have to wonder is there a way to compromise and satisfy each side. Those wishing it removed have asked that it be placed in a museum setting. Those wishing it to stay, well they want it to stay. Both requests may be legally and logically not feasible for the city and the area. The land and statue will likely end up contested in courts, any decision the city makes will not be approved by one side or the other, and the monument is already located in a historic district which makes many buildings and statues in a “museum” type of setting.
Like many in the area, I have heard the debates, the discussions, and the calls of both sides. Some have been loud, some have been logical, and some have certainly been heartfelt and passionate. I can see where people supporting the heritage have a claim, but I can also see where people wanting it taken down have just claims as well. We have two opposing views. The one overwhelming thing is that nobody seems to be saying destroy it. Even those wanting it removed simply asked that it be removed to a museum setting. Why don’t we consider compromise?
Several people have pointed out that the soldier on top appears to be in the type of dress uniform used in WWI. That is possible since the statues on the monument were made in Italy in the middle of WWI. Many others have pointed out that it is dedicated to all mothers of soldiers…well, it’s not. The fact is it is dedicated to Confederate mothers. Consider this… The word Confederate appears two times on the monument. At the top under the soldier, it reads “To our loyal Confederates.” In the Mother’s dedication, it states “O Great Confederate Mothers…” Rather than spend anywhere from $100,000-$300,000 (some estimates I have heard) to move it somewhere else, why don’t we rededicate it and change its meaning? We could easily remove “Confederate” and put “Americans.” We could easily remove the second “Confederate” in the dedication section and also replace it with “Americans”. By doing this, it would be dedicated to American Mothers and the year of the original dedicate would mark the end of WWI.
Once the two words are changed, the city and area could have a huge dedication downtown of the “American Mothers Monument.” Not only would we have a compromise, but we would be the first and only area to find a different way. The monument would become a new flashpoint for compromise, community, and reconciliation. We would show that we have advanced with time and that we do believe in change. Much like any renaming or change, it would likely take a generation or two for acceptance to be fulfilled. There would still be those who thought of it as a racist monument and there would still be those that thought of it as history. Just imagine though, in a hundred years when the people living in Texarkana looked at the monument? It would be an American Mothers Monument. That would be the accepted name and the history would still be there. People would say that one side wanted the history and one side wanted it gone, but they were mature enough to find compromise and healing. I recognize this may not sit well with everyone, but please keep in mind this is just one potential compromise. We can continue to argue, or we can search and find common ground and show the future we could agree to disagree and find common ground.