Erasing Symbols of White Supremacy

Activists demanding removal of Confederate statues and memorials as an offense to segments of modern society should think hard before taking to the streets to protest.

If everyone succumbed to their wishes there is no end to the number that would have to be relocated to museums or re-named to mollify the outraged.

It would go far beyond carting away the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from his perch at Charlottesville.

To start with, one of the most conspicuous memorials in Washington, D.C. would have to be re-named to abate the fury of those opposed to segregation – even though this took place in earlier times.

The crusade would have to kickoff by replacing the name of the first Senate Office Building to open on Capitol Hill, on Constitution Avenue NW opposite the U.S. Capitol.

The Russell Senate Office Building is named in honor of the arch segregationist, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, a towering presence over four decades in “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” before his death in 1971.

A lifelong white supremacist, Russell was in the forefront of victorious Southern senators who filibustered an anti-lynching bill into oblivion when he told a packed chamber in the 1930s that if passed, legislation to follow would “enforce social equality between the races, which includes wiping out all segregation of the races in schools and colleges and churches and hospitals and in homes and in every public place.” He denounced these forecasts as “horrible and sickening.”

And yet, the palatial building, with its famous Kennedy Caucus Room hosting the riveting Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, and the place from where Senator John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president, honors the memory of an outspoken racist.

Countless people, incensed by sculptures of Confederate leaders, should cross over to the Capitol and walk inside to Statuary Hall, where each State is allowed to place two statues memorializing men and women of distinction.

Here, among worthies including, Daniel Webster of New Hampshire, Sequoyah of Oklahoma, Henry Clay of Kentucky, Sam Houston of Texas, and Thomas Edison of Ohio, observers will also see the statues of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and his vice-president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia.

The likenesses of these slave-State leaders would have to be dragged out in ignominy to erase homage to them in such august company.

While in the Capitol, those waging war against public reminders of the Confederacy would have more work to do elsewhere. Down in the crypt they would have to haul off life-size statues of John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Robert E. Lee of Virginia. More outlawed Southern senators who subscribed to secession are dotted around the Capitol Visitor Center and the stately Hall of Columns.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. All over the nation are schools, universities, hospitals, parks, squares, museums, and other public institutions honoring those who took up arms for the Confederacy, or who glorified the secessionist movement.

Many contemporaries regard the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery, degradation, and white supremacy. The banners are no longer hoisted above State Capitols and many other public places. But the uproar has not subsided and attention has now zeroed in on controversial statues and memorials.

Removal is easy, but is there really an end in sight?

Surely the time has come to remember the wisdom of an old saying: Look before you leap.

Anthony S. Pitch is a former journalist in America, England, Israel, and Africa, and the author of non-fiction history books, with 17 appearances on national television.

About the Author
Anthony S. Pitch is the author of Our Crime Was Being Jewish. He was Associated Press Broadcast Editor in Philadelphia and a journalist in England, Israel and Africa before becoming a senior writer in the books division of U.S. News & World Report in Washington, D.C