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No easy way to honor public figures

To the editor:

I want to say something that I haven’t seen articulated on social media. I admit I have been a proponent of removing monuments celebrating the Confederacy for a long time, and I am happy that people are finally recognizing the role these monuments have played intimidating many Americans.

I am relieved and inspired by people that have demanded the removal of tributes to men like Nathaniel Bedford Forrest and others whose images have been erected and displayed to tell a fake version of Southern history. Confederate leaders were men whot fought to enslave people and often literally killed US soldiers. There is no logical or acceptable reason why images of these people should be erected on public property and maintained by public money.

When we talk about statues of other American historical figures the conversation becomes more complicated. There are many people in our history who condoned the institution of slavery but are also known for making other contributions to our nation. The question is what do we do about things that remember and alleviate the contributions of these people.

This isn’t a simple issue. As a human, I realize that I am far from perfect. I also realize that even the most evil of people are capable of doing kind things. All of us are capable of both good and evil. People are complex and many historical figures did do good things and very bad things. George Washington owned slaves. He also made many positive contributions to this nation. What do we do about things that honor people like him?

I fully realize I am not going to provide an answer that will please all of us, but I feel I can make a contribution. When we decide what individuals we will honor in our communities. Let’s take a long look at why they are being honored. What is the motivation for displaying this painting or naming this military base? Are the people pushing this honor trying to highlight a contribution that serves American ideals, or is the intent to tell a version of history that never existed, to intimidate people struggling to embrace those ideals?

In a diverse and rich culture, there really isn’t a good test of who we should commemorate in our public square, but let’s ask why we want to honor them. Are we preserving and celebrating American ideals or are we seeking to serve a less altruistic agenda? The leaders of the Confederacy are the easy ones. The rest aren’t so easy.

Craig Brown,

Salem

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