August 18

Blog #131 – Which statues need to be torn down?

Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, there was a spasm of protests that touched every single state in the country.  Historians had not seen this many spontaneous protests since Dr. King’s assassination in April 1968, but this time, they were different than those in 1968.  Many of the protestors started using the slogans of Black Lives Matter, a group started in 2013 by 3 women who were angry that a Florida jury did not convict a white man who had killed Black teen Trayvon Martin.  Many of the protestors coopted the language of critical race theory that believes there are systemic racist structures that perpetuate white supremacy and white privilege.  Some of the protests turned violent.  Most did not.  And many white Americans started to notice and challenge racist notions that they had previously ignored before.

Aunt Jemima got retired off the syrup label because she was based upon a racist stereotype.

The NFL team in Washington D.C. bowed to pressure to change their racist mascot despite the owner proclaiming he would NEVER change it.

The Mississippi legislature voted in late June to change their state flag because it has included the Confederate battle flag since 1894- see image below.  There had been two efforts to change it in 2001 and 2015 but neither worked.

Flag of Mississippi (1894-1996).svg

Other countries’ sports teams wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts in games and practices.  And there were also huge protests across the world protesting America’s treatment of its citizens of color.

When Major League Baseball began play in late July, whole teams took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.  Previously, sparked by Colin Kaepernick and other sports stars, critics had charged these players who knelt during the anthem as hating America or that he just wanted attention.

NBA players were allowed to modify their names on their jerseys when the league started up.  Many of the slogans included things like “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Say Her Name.”

There was a strong push in both Congress and the media to rename the ten military bases named after Confederate military leaders.

And statues were torn down.  The list found here is extensive, but the statues included other Americans (plus an Italian named Christopher Columbus and several statues of Spanish priests who were instrumental in the deaths of indigenous people) who had nothing to do with the Civil War including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant (he was on the winning side!), John C. Calhoun (the founder of the idea that slavery was a “positive good”) among others.  There was also an attempt to take down the massive statue of President Andrew Jackson in D.C. before the President ordered it protected.  Other monuments were removed by the cities where they resided before they could be torn down.  And some statues were targeted for removal because of troubling imagery including one with Abraham Lincoln.


Was Abraham Lincoln really the 'Great Emancipator'? - HistoryExtra

These things happened so quickly and with such anger that it’s still shocking to think how quickly things changed just within the span of a month or two.  Even a monument to the some of the most famous Black soldiers in American history, the 54th Massachusetts in Boston, was defaced during protests in June (I was a bit confused about this one).

If you ever wondered why there are so many monuments (and military bases) honoring the Confederacy – normally monuments don’t get erected to honor the losers in a war but we have thousands of these monuments around the country – we have the United Daughters of the Confederacy to blame for that.  Take a look at this brief video on the UDC and their vast influence – not just through monuments but also through the writing of Southern history textbooks that shared something we will go much more in depth on called the Lost Cause –  

I get that there was a lot of pent-up anger at systemic racism that exploded in late May and in June.  I get why Washington, Jefferson, and Calhoun were all taken down (they were slaveowners, and so was Grant, albiet very briefly).  There has been a reckoning that America has been going through since May 25, and there has been tremendous pressure to fix things and do right by America’s POC.  What should be fixed and changed will likely not happen until next year (at the earliest), but I wanted to focus on the statues first.

Statues are usually put up to honor heroes of our history.  Given the UDC’s blatant attempt at rewriting the history of the Civil War, a number of statues were erected during the turn of the 20th Century, it’s no surprise that the traitors of the Confederacy were honored with statues.  But what has happened most dramatically seen since late May has been a shift in the way many white Americans have seen these statues.  The undercurrents of racism had been ignored by many white Americans.  Black Americans had previously been told to just accept these statues, they’re no big deal.  But they didn’t accept them or stop without a fight.  There was a push to remove some Confederate statues after the mass shooting of nine Black parishoners in Charleston, S.C. in 2015 by a white teen who had been radicalized by white hate groups.  Some statues were removed.  Others stayed up.  And there are likely some statues that might still get taken down.

So here are a few questions I’d like you to answer:

  1. Do you think that this emphasis on taking down statues is overblown, is just about right, or maybe even a desecration of American history?  Do we need to take down more statues?  Why?
  2. Statues capture a moment in time and place – the people at that time felt the need to honor someone who they felt needed to be remembered.  But times change and so do people.  Things that were acceptable 50 – 100 years ago may no longer be acceptable.  Should those statues and monuments be removed because times have changed?  Why or why not?  Or can we leave the statues up and change the way that those figures are taught and should be remembered?
  3. Should we even have any statues at all of our heroes?  Why or why not?

Your answers for all three questions should be a minimum of 400 words total (not 400 words for each question).  

Due by the first day of class before class meets.  

As you can see from the painting below, we have a history of tearing down statues in this country.

Tearing Down King George: The Monumental Summer of 1776 - The ...

January 20

Blog 82 – Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20?

In the past few years, students and adults have pushed to change the names of schools and institutions based upon the namesake’s past history.  Last summer, for instance, the Confederate flag was pulled down from the South Carolina capitol in the wake of the Charleston shootings (the shooter was pictured w/ Confederate memorabilia), and then the South Carolina legislature voted overwhelmingly to take the flag down.  This Economist article examines other particular cases not mentioned in the “Rethinking History” article I gave you.  From another point of view, this article defends leaving the Hoover FBI federal building as it is, though some have come to question Hoover’s tough-minded, illegal wiretappings of students and Dr. King (Cointelpro).

In the article, “Rethinking History,” former Princeton president and 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson is derided because of his racist comments.  He told a black leader in 1914 that “segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you.”  A different example from the article is what the University of Virginia has done in the past decade in trying to honor its slave past.  At least 140 slaves helped build the university, and this fall, Virginia opened up a dorm named after two of the slaves who had worked on the campus before the Civil War.

Presidential candidates say things like this get said today (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump), and some people agree.  Some people go crazy seeing these statements as incredibly vile.  Does this mean that our nation has descended into a politically- correct (PC) world?  Are we finally recognizing the faults of the past and trying to make amends for them, because our nation, though it’s been a melting pot since its inception, is really starting to change?  Or, can we learn something from the past instead of erasing it and blocking the things which we find disturbing?

This brings us to Andrew Jackson.  This NY Times article suggested putting a woman’s face on the 20$ bill.

“Jackson was a slave owner whose decisions annihilated American Indian tribes of the Southeast. He also hated paper currency and vetoed the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve. Jackson is in the history books, but there’s no reason to keep him in our wallets.”

His record with the Indian Removal Act, his battles w/ Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd BUS, and the fact that he was a slave owner all count against him.  But what about his adoption of an Indian boy during one of the campaigns to eradicate the Indians?  Did America actually benefit from not having a central banking system for almost 80 years?  He was a symbol of the common man, those who could newly vote in the elections of 1828 and 1832 voted for him overwhelmingly, because he was a common man at one time.  But he was also an exceptional man, having fought in the Revolution and the War of 1812, amassed a fortune (though off the backs of slaves), and become the 7th president of the United States.  There are very very few people who can claim these achievements.

But if we remove Jackson from the $20 and replace him with someone else, where do we stop?  Using the slippery slope argument (which is always a dangerous fallacy), do we rename Washington D.C. because Washington was a slave holder?  Do we take Lincoln off of the penny or the $5 because he had over 30 Indians executed during the Civil War for sparking an uprising in Minnesota?  Jefferson… we won’t even get into him.

As someone in the “Rethinking History” article states, if we are going to name buildings after people, should we expect them to be perfect?  Maybe we should stop naming buildings after people.  Or can we learn something from these flawed individuals (especially b/c everyone is flawed in some way or another)?

What are your thoughts?  I see three possible alternatives to Jackson on the $20:

1. Keep him there and leave it as it is.

2. Change him out with someone else, especially with a woman of historical significance, and leave Andrew Jackson to be talked about in history classes.

3. Leave him on the bill but conduct education about Andrew Jackson’s legacy – This could be done by the Federal Reserve which makes decisions about currency.

If you come up with another alternative, please include it in your post.

250 words minimum.  Due Monday, January 25 by class. 

October 30

Blog #42 – Slavery disqualifier?

“All men are created equal…” Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]… we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”  Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Holmes

An argument that discredits some of the Founding Fathers, including men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison among others is that because these men owned slaves yet fought for freedom, they are hypocrites.  The line of reasoning goes – “how could someone who so courageously advanced the cause of human freedom still be a slaveowner?  They can’t possibly be both for and against freedom.”   The next point in this line of thinking is that because of this hypocrisy, some of Founding Fathers, especially the Virginians, are racist because they neither had the courage to free their slaves or that they profited from their slaves’ labor. 

One of the most biting quotes about this dilemma is from this time period (not ours) by Englishman Samuel Johnson:

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” (Ambrose 2).

But were our FFs neglectful of this slavery dilemma?   It appears not.  When Jefferson describes the perpetuation of slavery in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he talks about how the slavemaster attitude is passed on down to his children:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise in the most boisterous passions…The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to his worst passions, and thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny…”

Here, the child of the slaveowner learns how to treat slaves like chattel, and the cycle is perpetuated.  But modern critics say, how could Jefferson recognize this contradiction in American society and not do anything about it?   Even in the same book where he criticizes slavery and its depravity, Jefferson embraces the racism of the time by asserting that slaves hadn’t produced any real literature, they smelled bad, and engage in sex constantly (Ambrose 4).  Yet, confoundingly, Jefferson also wrote a passage into the original draft of the Declaration of Independence that condemned slavery, and he also signed the bill that outlawed the international slave trade in 1808. 

“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].” —George Washington

Then there’s Washington.  He was the only one of the nine slaveowning president who had freed all of his slaves (neither Adams owned slaves).   He held the nation together through the force of his personality and will during some of the darkest times.  But that didn’t stop a school in New Orleans from being renamed in the 1990s from George Washington Elementary to the Charles R. Drew Elementary(Dr. Drew is the developer of hemoglobin) (Ambrose 11). 


Ben Franklin and Benjamin Rush, FFs from Pennsylvania, helped found the nation’s first anti-slavery society in Philadelphia.  Rush is quoted as saying: “Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity… It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father.”

On the other side, there’s the assertion by Michelle Bachman, former Republican presidential candidate, who said that  the FFs “know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”   Specifically, Bachman mentions John Quincy Adams as one of these tireless founders, our 6th president. 


 1. What is happening here to the Founding Fathers?  Why are some people quick to attack and blame them for allowing slavery to exist at the foundation of a freedom-loving nation?  And why do some people defend the FFs with every ounce of their being? 

2. Do you think the FFs are being judged by today’s standards or by the standards of the day in which they lived?  Have the FFs become some kind of political football that candidates use for their own purposes?  Why?

Answer both questions by Thursday, class time, November 1.  300 words total. 


Ambrose, Stephen E. To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print  The Week.