There have been a few stories that I’ve come across that makes me think we’re going too far at trying to “correct” our past mistakes. These attempts may be well-intended, but I think they have the strong possibility of allowing revisionist history to change the true history of our country. A person or country that does not know its past can not chart a proper course for the future. Humans learn by trial and error amongst other methods. By not examining and learning from our past mistakes, we leave the possibility of future generations repeating the same things.
We attempt to dull the pain from past mistakes by removing any and all traces of the things that causes the pain. I think that is the wrong course of action. Instead, we should be strong enough to confront those past mistakes head on, have rational dialogue on the causes and effects of those mistakes, and then apply what we learn to our present situation to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Two recent events that have me thinking about this is the renaming of a school in Jacksonville, Florida and the removal of a statue from the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.
School Board members said they believe they gave people on both sides of the issue plenty of time and opportunity to voice their views. During the meeting before the vote, community members spoke to the board for nearly 90 minutes.
Now, the Board’s intent sounds like they are acting in the interest of the community as a whole, but I think there’s the chance that wiping General Forrest’s name from the school will also lessen the interest and learning involved with the Civil War era. Instead of focusing on the fact that Gen. Forrest founded the KKK, those who attend the school named after him should dig deeper to see if that’s the ONLY thing he did. Whether right or wrong in his actions, Gen. Forrest is a part of American history, and we should not be so willing to wipe that history away no matter how awful it is. That includes removing his name from schools, streets, or anything else. I can understand the emotion behind such actions, but sometimes, we have to temper our emotions and take a long view of situations.
ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal quietly signed an order this month to remove the controversial statue of Tom Watson from the prominent west side entrance of the state capitol building. But not because of the controversy.
Gov. Deal ordered the relocation not because of the decades-long controversy over the statue’s prominent place, but because the state is planning “big renovations on the steps on that side” of the Capitol, said Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson.
“Tom Watson was a first-class hater and it wasn’t just Jewish people, he hated Catholics and Black people too,” said Anti-Defamation League southeastern director Bill Nigut, in a 2010 story on 11 Alive News.
Watson was a prominent voice in the buildup to the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman convicted of murdering of Mary Phagan. “His anti-Semitism and racism was particularly vile,” said Sen. Vincent Fort Monday. Fort says Watson whipped up racist sentiment that led to a riot in Atlanta in 1906.”
The statue of Tom Watson stirred up a bit of debate in and around Atlanta, Georgia as well. Now, one of the state legislators is pushing for a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King on the site of the previous statue. This is another situation where emotion is removing a cog from the wheel of discussion that this country could and should have. Instead of banishing the statue of Tom Watson to a spot away from the Capitol, why not put the two of them side by side? One person who pushed intolerance right beside the person who spearheaded the movement that broke the back of intolerance. Think of the historical discussions that would generate. Outside of the State of Georgia, how many school age kids have learned of Tom Watson and his actions?
I’m not discounting the emotions of anybody involved in these efforts, but I think we’re losing great chances to debate the past, present, and future course of our country. Removing a statue or name from a school does not remove the actions of the person. That does not also remove those people’s effect on our country. Kids today have access to much more information than at any time in the past. That said, we shouldn’t be removing any references to our past as that cuts off a potential learning lesson for the kids who never had to live through these events or have talked with people who lived through them. Looking at other countries and their history, you can still see the gates to the prison camps in Germany, even with the painful history behind them. We shouldn’t be so careless about our history as well or else we stand the chance of it being revised so much that America in 100 years won’t know what the previous America was actually like.