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Re-envisioning the Confederate Monument as a portrait of diversity

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WHEN REFLECTING on whether the Confederate Monument in Savannah’s Forsyth Park is to remain standing or not, some important considerations should probably be taken into account.

One is whether the challenge before us might be more effectively addressed by redefining the function of the monument.

The Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park. - PHOTO BY BRANDON BLATCHER
  • Photo by Brandon Blatcher
  • The Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park.

Another would be to examine how we could build upon such a redefinition, or reinterpretation if preferred, to expand one significant aspect of Savannah’s ever-evolving story.

Until now, that story as represented by public monuments, educational curriculum, acknowledged historical figures, and depictions in the dominant media has clearly remained too racially lopsided.

The southern section of what we presently call Forsyth Park (itself named after Georgia’s 33rd governor, John Forsyth) was once known as the South Common.

With the Marine Hospital on one side of the area and the Old County Jail on another, the larger expanse served as a central military encampment that included facilities for Confederate soldiers and Union Army prisoners of war.

Therefore, the structure designated as a monument could actually be viewed more precisely as an official historical marker than as a tribute to those who would have seen my ancestors dying as slaves, and myself, perhaps, eventually born as one.

Redefining the monument as an historical marker for an important site of the American Civil War would not “fix everything” any more than our reigning POTUS’s tweets do.

But some of the discussions about expanding or, in truth, appropriately revising the thematic intent represented by the monolith as it stands makes a lot of sense and possibly could fix quite a bit.

Those of us—black, white, brown, tan, and in-between—who were around at the time will remember that balancing the story of Savannah’s heroes was a primary motivation behind Dr. Abigail Jordan and company’s decade-long battle to erect the African American Family Monument on River Street.

The ripple effect from that victory has benefitted many more than local diverse denizens and a strategically-applied creative approach to resolving the die-hard controversy over the Confederate Monument could produce a similar result.

At present, the iron fence-encircled monument consists of the full-size likeness of a Confederate veteran usually identified as Hamilton Branch, along with busts of Confederate General Lafayette McLaws and Confederate Colonel Francis S. Bartow.

What if, in addition to these, were added sculptures of the following: Savannah educator and 33rd U.S. Colored Troops veteran Susie Baker King Taylor, Union General William T. Sherman (like it or not he won and graciously spared the city), and black freedman, pastor, entrepreneur, and political advocate Andrew Cox Marshall (slightly pre-Civil War, yes, but a worthy figure nonetheless).

Think collective diversity and the truth it represented 150-plus years as well as the truth it increasingly reflects in 2017.

There is no reason the statue of Hamilton could not come down to occupy a space and level on par with the others and, put in its former place, a gleaming eagle or another symbol of justice.

The monument itself could be renamed something like (just an example folks) Emancipation Circle, or Circle of Remembrance.

That would be worth traveling some miles for and something which could provide employment for two or more artists (word has it the city is booming now so why not share the wealth with the creative souls who do so much for its reputation?).

With the threat of war in this century no more than the push of a button away from certain hyper-animated fingers on different continents, we can never forget that Savannah’s great combat story is an integral part of America’s heartbreaking family tragedy.

What happens in the city — racially, culturally, politically, economically, or socially — gets noticed and matters very much.

Narratives spun from the American experience often influence stories lived beyond our shores. A crucial lesson which we may yet pass on to the rest of the world is that by re-envisioning the functional significance of the Confederate Monument we can simultaneously acknowledge our differences and utilize them to everyone’s advantage.

Please consider this: The American Civil War did not end with the chapters on divided families splattering each other’s blood all over the country. Nor did it do so with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

It ended with once-opposing forces pledging to work together towards a healing reconciliation and greater unification within our shared homeland.

That part of our story might never end because each succeeding generation has, and likely always will, find itself reassessing and refining its understanding and practice of democracy.

This current generation in Georgia’s first great municipality has an opportunity to contribute to that process in a very beautiful and empowering way.

cs

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