When Moses came down the mountain and discovered the people worshiping around a false God, he issued an order: take down the idol and grind it into dust.
In recent weeks, we have seen protesters across the United States take up the prophetic mantle and rip down statues built to commemorate racial terror. Two of those sat on a 75-foot tall obelisk in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the edge of Capitol Square, site of many a field trip in my youth. When he spoke to dedicate them in 1895, Alfred M. Waddell was at the leading edge of a white supremacy campaign aimed at rooting out black legislators and their allies from every level of North Carolina government. His politics were grotesque; his history was just as bad.
“The South did not go to war for slavery,” he said (despite the various Articles of Secession saying that slavery was precisely the reason the South went to war). “As has been said a thousand times, it was the occasion, not the cause, of the war.” A distinction without a difference, aimed only at telling a peculiar history.
Waddell’s deceit was not exactly about the Civil War, though. Using a rhetorical sleight of hand, he argued that the monument inscribed “To Our Confederate Dead” was about a war three decades prior. Closer at hand for him in 1895 was winning a victory over Reconstruction, and destroying the Fusion movement that had placed black and progressive white leaders in offices across the state the year before.
The monument was a commemoration of the denial of black humanity. It was an idol to white supremacy. That is all any Confederate monument is, or has ever been.
“Pulling down statues is a start. Creating a different world is the end.”
So, rip all the monuments down – and, with them, the lies they have commemorated. But any artist surely gets to thinking about what happens with the remnants. I’m no sculptor and not much of a creative salvager, but I do have a few ideas for ways to reuse the material of monuments to America’s racism and its perpetrators, defenders, propagandists, enablers and beneficiaries:
- Participation trophies.
- Clocks and watches, inscribed with “Time is up for the Lost Cause.”
- Materials for new antiracist art reflecting truthful history.
- Artificial reefs for threatened ocean life.
- Chicken wire, piano wire, electric wire, orthodontic wire, piano wire, telephone wire, barbed wire (for farmers, not jailers), wire hangers, Christmas ornament hangers, wire-rim glasses.
- Light rail track, for equitable transportation systems.
- Screws, nails, bolts, washers and other hardware for building housing for every single human.
- Plowshares and pruning hooks, as in the prophets Isaiah and Micah.
- Skillets, pots, pans, grills, knives, forks, spoons and so on. The revolution will make us hungry.
- Dustbins, dumpsters, trash cans, garbage receptacles, waste baskets, ash trays, spittoons, sewer pipes, etc.
- Tubas and trumpets for a parade to celebrate the demise of the Lost Cause.
- Steel pans, guiros, timbales, triangles, cymbals, cowbells, chimes, bells, whistles. Salsa music for the revolution.
- Banjos. But let’s not get carried away with this one.
- Coins, lots of them, for reparations payments.
- Material to be melted in an epic bonfire (with a bonus for all the white Jesus portraits, in their frames, to use as kindling).
Pulling down statues is a start. Creating a different world is the end. The prophetic movement in the streets has begun a good work. There is no stopping until every vestige of white supremacist ideology is erased, not only from public squares, but from laws, institutions, churches, theologies and families.