Imagine the U.S. capitol’s austere statuary that holds monuments of the great men that built this nation. However, some of them are no longer considered “great men.” Statues of Confederate Soldiers, Congressmen who supported slavery and segregation, and downright white supremacists litter the south. But can we say litter? Can the work of these men and their willingness to chase their beliefs be forgotten? This is the debate that rages on- especially in the American South. I find that as times change and there is more respect for all cultures, the way we honor our history changes. History cannot undergo censure or erasure; that is simply regressive. However, we can change our customs as we explore the hurt these monuments may cause due to their racist nature, cultural intolerance, or symbolism of unprincipled ideals that work against the advancement of mankind. An example of this would be the statue of John Aycock in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Aycock was North Carolina’s “Education Governor.” In addition to that, he was also a self-proclaimed white supremacist and segregationist. He robbed Blacks of their right to vote and was famous for his speech dubbed “The Negro Problem”.. Aycock worked tirelessly to stop the Black vote. He also implemented and stressed that Whites control North Carolina’s public education system as to keep Blacks exactly where the White supremacists wanted them to be. In his speech “The Negro Problem” Aycock boasts,
‘I am proud of my State…because there we have solved the negro problem…We have taken him out of politics and have thereby secured good government..”
He then revels in what he believes to be the bravado of his activism as he continued disenfranchising the Black community. He compares the Black persons’ search for equality to a search for death. His political career was wholly based around deep-rooted racism, and he displayed that in every decision he made.
The history of John Aycock’s life is only the beginning of why his statue now faces scrutiny. His image is symbolic of the racism and prejudice southern Blacks faced every day throughout the history of America. Even now, the children of this generation will view these men, like Aycock, as catalysts of slavery, segregation, and bigotry instead of war heroes or successful politicians.
Henceforth, the statue of John Aycock remaining in the U.S. Capitol Building shows a lack of consideration and sends the message that the United States shows reverence to these men despite their unacceptable actions. The monuments embody a dark time in America and exude this passive-aggressive intolerance of African American history and culture within the United States. Comparably, even though Japanese generals may have accomplished military prestige in World War II, they were still held accountable for their crimes against man. So the debate is, why should generals of the Confederate army who were fighting to uphold their states’ rights, which included slavery, also not be held accountable for promoting slavery and owning slaves?
The opposite argument says that the statues are similar to history books. They are reminders, lessons, and explanations that connect us to our roots. This seems like a wonderful argument for why we should preserve these artifacts, however; there is a gray area in that argument. When reflection becomes reverence and reminders become icons, the meaning is completely lost. Also, the intentions behind statues like John Aycock’s were born out of praise-not as a reminder of a flawed history. Many southern states have sent these controversial statues as representatives of their states’ accomplishments- not their downfalls.
John Aycock has an auditorium, a street, a neighborhood, a middle school, dormitories, and a high school named after him. These were all dedicated to him due to his perseverance in improving public education in the south. But, what many of his advocates failed to acknowledge is his stance against education for African Americans and his aggressive, racist politics that worked to strip Black citizens of their rights. Furthermore, only a few of these institutions considered renaming with very few of them actually doing so. Keeping reminders of someone like Aycock around to acknowledge the good he did only allows for all to be blinded to his heinous acts. Then, we repeat history as we become naive to the fact that educated, renowned, and well-to-do people can also be the instigators, perpetrators, and enablers of horrible crimes against their fellow man.
The obvious reason these statues cause so much conflict is that for many they symbolize the racism their friends, their family, or they themselves had to face for generations. The underlying effect is the way these statues portray America on a national and global scale. The United States preaches equality and freedom, and when honor is given to those that worked against those values then there is a price to pay. So, when the question is asked, “What makes these monuments so controversial?” it will be known that the ignorance and blatant insensitivity towards the culture of African American citizens enshrouds these monuments of hatred.
The removal of John Aycock’s statue is sometimes viewed as a limitation on the freedom of expression. However, there are many arguments to be weighed. Symbolising a threat to the identity and freedom of others and worshipping these men as heroes is now unacceptable. As a consequence, changes are being made. In 2015, state lawmakers voted to replace Aycock’s statue with one of Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham. However, Graham was not yet deceased so the statue remains, and many are still fighting for its replacement. In fact, in 2003 there was legislation passed that would implement laws regarding statue changes. Furthermore, more and more states have chosen up-to-date or universal historical figures to replace unsavory ones in the statuary.
All of this change reflect America’s political climate and our never ending journey towards progress and equality. As the demographic landscape of our country shifts, so do the values with which we hold ourselves accountable. This can be seen in and is the cause of the call to action regarding memorialization and commemorations of the men who brought burden on the lives of so many.