Earlier this year, with the help of our readers, Fusion counted approximately 250 remaining Confederate monuments across the United States. Some of them are historical monuments built in the aftermath of the Civil War, in which the Confederacy had it handed to them.
The persistence of these monuments in public places has become an object of increasing contention since the shooting in June at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which left nine black parishioners dead, allegedly at the hands of a Confederacy-obsessed white supremacist.
Today, the city of New Orleans is set to vote on the removal of several Confederate monuments, all which have been prominent features of the city landscape since the late 1800s. The most prominent monuments being considered for removal are a 16-foot statue of General Robert E. Lee, atop a 60-foot high doric marble column which was placed in 1884 and a 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League, a Confederate group.
Charles Kelly Barrow, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has said that the removal of the monuments would constitute the erasure of history. This particular period of American history is under threat, he argued, since any trace of it will soon fall to political correctness and a sustained liberal push to eliminate the "heritage" that pockets of the South hold so dearly.
It's true, to a degree: over the last year, the push to remove Confederate symbols from public view has picked up steam. The University of Texas removed its statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis; South Carolina and Alabama voted to remove the Confederate battle flags from the grounds of their capitol buildings; the Memphis city council voted to remove a statue and grave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who went on to become the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan, from a city park. The latter is still awaiting approval from Tennessee's historic preservation agency.
"This is about a holistic cleansing of our city," said the activist Quess, 35, who has been organizing to get rid of the New Orleans statues for the past year with his group Take ‘Em Down NOLA. "The very people that waged violence get monuments named after them—streets, schools—and yet the city is mostly black? And you have to raise your children in this?"
The history of the Confederacy, as ugly as it is, is a verified, integral piece of American history. While there's a strong argument for removing the monuments, it would do us no good to sweep them away and forget about them, and in forgetting them, lose sight of the battles that we have overcome.
Which is why I have an idea.
Hungary endured 45 years of Communist dictatorship under the occupation of the Soviet Union. During this time, unknown thousands were killed, freedom of speech and political dissent was quelled, labor was forced, and food was scarce.
So at the end of the occupation, in 1990, the country had to figure out what to do with all the monuments the Soviets had built to themselves. Monstrous statues depicting figures like Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin were erected in public squares across the country.
Here's what they did: they created a park for the monuments, all of which carry the weight of an ugly and brutal history.
Memento Park in Budapest is currently home to 42 of the largest Soviet monuments from that horrible time in the country's history. Árpád Göncz, president of Hungary after occupation, praised the idea of preserving the statues as a historical museum "unparalleled in the world."
"The way Hungary treated this sensitive topic is to be considered exemplary even in international terms," the president boasts in an official statement on the park's website. "The Statue Park utilizes politically neutral means of art to emphasize the dignity of democracy and the responsibility of historical thinking."
The more Hungarians confront the symbols of tyranny that once ruled it, the population will be that much more committed to sustaining a democracy, he suggests. You can't blank out the ugly past, but you can be empowered by it.
When you attend the park, there's even a "Communist Hotline," where you can phone in to listen to the speeches of Communist leaders Lenin, Stalin, Che Guevara, and Mao.
Historical recreations are on site, showing how the secret police service operated under the Soviets, while the "Red Star Store" shows how hard food was to come by in those days.
"Historic places, including the Confederate memorials in contention, can be catalysts for a necessary and worthwhile civic discussion," Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a statement about the push to remove the New Orleans monuments. "We believe we actually need more historic sites properly interpreted, to help us contextualize and come to terms with this difficult past."
Using Hungary's example, a similar park could be created in the U.S., featuring some of the largest monuments to the Confederacy, in the name of preserving the pivotal moment in American history for the ages, in its proper context.
The Confederacy, in the wake of the Civil War, was lost forever. As a sustained effort to rid the public sphere of these objects of hate continues to gain traction, it would be inappropriate and counterproductive to lose the collective memory of the period.
The monuments should be removed, but not forgotten.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.