Three white history professors from Middle Georgia colleges had the same answer when asked what place and meaning Confederate monuments have in modern society.
At its core, the Civil War was about slavery and white supremacy, Fort Valley State University professor Mark Smith said at a panel discussion Wednesday night.
“So, really, any public monument to soldiers and leaders of the military of the Confederacy is a monument to these things,” Smith said. “Given what they symbolize, I don’t think they’re appropriate for these spaces.”
James Welborn, a professor at Georgia College, and Niels Eichhorn, a professor at Middle Georgia State University, agreed.
All of them believe that Confederate monuments, most of them built between 1890 and 1920, should be augmented or relocated.
The monuments were erected as “an unambiguous sign of who was in control,” Smith said. They were erected outside public buildings and “places of power where you could not miss their meaning.”
Smith said the monuments should be moved to a museum or cemetery, or new monuments that challenge white supremacy should be erected in the same public spaces and “maybe right alongside them.”
“Either solution I think would make our public spaces more inclusive, and it seems to me like that’s what we should be doing,” Smith said.
A bespectacled white man with a gray beard spoke up.
“I’m a little disappointed,”Johnny Mack Nickles said, standing up to speak to the professors on a stage at Middle Georgia State University. “All three of you have the same opinions.”
Slavery was everywhere, not just the South, Nickles said, and “I don’t believe slavery was the reason for the war.
A few people chuckled.
Nickles contended that people “take the easy way out by blaming slavery” when the war was really about states rights.
“I am totally in favor of the monuments,” Nickles said. “We have a monument of Rosa Parks now. A statue of Otis Redding. … (Confederate monuments should be) all honored and protected, or all at the cemetery.”
Smith said he and the other two professors had not discussed the issue before and “historical scholarship is pretty much in agreement” on the matter.
A black woman stood up and wanted to know if the professors were just talking about the issue in reaction to what occurred in Charrlottesville, Virginia, or if the issue was something they’d been teaching for years.
“Where I come from, in our household, we really didn’t have any discussions about the removal of the statues. Even as I took classes on black studies, those weren’t even part of the curriculum,” said Grace Adams Square, a self-identified Northerner. “It wasn’t until I came down south did I start to hear conversation.”
Square said she’d talked to older black people who said “they didn’t have their voice when this happened.”
“Charlottesville offered a great opportunity for us to have this conversation,” Eichhorn said.
Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis has been advocating to move Confederate monuments in downtown Macon to Rose Hill Cemetery where hundreds of Confederate soldiers are buried.
“They are there. Put the statue there,” Ellis said at the panel discussion.