Take down the Confederate flags -- but not the monuments

These new monuments and markers add a counterpoint to the harmonious story Charleston’s streets have told for decades. Shoppers meandering down King Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in the city, are now forced to confront the sidewalk marker outside the former S.H. Kress Store. There, in 1960, 16 students from all-black Burke High School were arrested after staging a sit-in at the lunch counter. The Vesey Monument best embodies this disruptive power. Small wonder that its foes fought against putting the statue at the center of the city. What better way to contest the claim that slavery was “a positive good,” as Calhoun once proclaimed, than to place a statue of Vesey next to both the Calhoun Monument and the original Citadel, the military arsenal built to police the city’s enslaved population in the wake of the Vesey conspiracy.

Erecting memorials that provide a more inclusive and accurate narrative of the past, then, seems a more effective way to counter racist monuments than does defacing them. And those who seek to challenge a specific Confederate monument’s message directly might consider an alternative—supplementing a statue with a marker that provides historical context about its origins and meaning. A group of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has proposed installing just this sort of plaque next to Silent Sam, a Confederate statue erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy on the campus in 1913.