The issue of removing Confederate statues is coming from a desire to purify our public spaces. Last night, under the cover of darkness, the City of Baltimore removed two statues from public spaces. General Lee, it is said, should be removed from the Duke Chapel. I believe this movement is misguided and should stop.
There is much moral ambiguity among our historical figures. Some Founding Fathers were slave owners and other cherished historical leaders espoused racist views. Times change, attitudes change and people grow. Are we so perfect now that we can sit in judgment of these historical figures?
The question also arises as to how far should we go in our quest for purification of public spaces? Is it time to raze the Jefferson Monument and rename the Washington Monument? Where does purification stop? Who decides? The movement to remove the statues implicitly says that they can decide. Apparently, the movement is made up of people who are able to determine who is satisfactorily pure. I find this notion troubling.
The civic leaders who erected the statues and symbols of Confederacy did so in an effort to help our country heal after the Civil War. It was a recognition that there were many people who fought and died who were not slave owners but were fighting to protect their homes and their loves ones. After the War, there was a desire to help heal by recognizing the sacrifices of those who lost their lives.
There are many sides to our history which we are still struggling to fully understand. I am not sure how I would feel about the statues if my ancestors were enslaved in the South. But I am reasonably sure that hiding the statues from sight does not help us to see.
Leave the statues and use them to help us understand our history, our present and prepare for our future. To help us understand each other.
Jim Woldenberg is Trinity '86 and a member of Jewish Life at Duke Advisory Board.