Op-Ed: Remove Confederate Symbols From Federal Public Land

By Reps. Adraino Espaillat and Dwight Evans 

The Confederate Battle Flag is one of the most controversial symbols from U.S. history, signifying a representation of racism, slavery, the oppression of African-Americans – and one of the darkest periods of our country’s past. We entered a new chapter in American history following the violence and death that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., at the hands of angry torch-bearing white supremacists following the city’s decision to remove a symbol of its Confederate lineage, a statue depicting the commanding Civil War general of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee.

In order to fully understand the nature of our country, we must fully understand the Civil War. The war is to the American body as cells are to the human body. They can either create health or well being or they can become cancerous and weaken the body.

Right now, these cells are becoming cancerous and we must address them with full court pressure. The violence and tragedy that occurred at the hands of white supremacists and Neo-Nazi protesters, while although not a new occurrence, has become a significant tipping point in our efforts to combat racism, hate and bigotry.

The Charlottesville march was eerily similar to scenes of Nazi Germany and the KKK in the South – a march driven by hate with the intention to spread fear and terror. The Klan used the Confederate Battle Flag as it terrorized African-Americans and communities of color. The Confederate flag and monuments were erected at the height of civil rights tensions in America, during the Jim Crow era to further intimidate and disenfranchise African-Americans. These hateful symbols are a constant reminder of what African-Americans endured, extreme terror and suffering, and the agenda of white supremacists.

Now it is up to each of us to stand united and on the right side of history to do what is required of us and as public servants. That is why we introduced the No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act, which would prohibit Federal funds from being used to create, maintain, or display, as applicable, any Confederate symbol on Federal public land, including any highway, park, subway, Federal building, military base, street or other Federal property.

There are currently at least 1,503 remaining symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces, including 109 public schools named after prominent Confederates, many with large African-American student populations; more than 700 Confederate monuments and statues on public property throughout the country, the vast majority in the South that include 96 monuments in Virginia, 90 in Georgia, and 90 in North Carolina. Additionally, there are 10 U.S. military bases named in honor of Confederate military leaders that include: Fort Rucker (Gen. Edmund Rucker) in Alabama; Fort Benning (Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning) and Fort Gordon (Maj. Gen. John Brown Gordon) in Georgia; Camp Beauregard (Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard) and Fort Polk (Gen. Leonidas Polk) in Louisiana; Fort Bragg (Gen. Braxton Bragg) in North Carolina; Fort Hood (Gen. John Bell Hood) in Texas; and, Fort A.P. Hill (Gen. A.P. Hill), Fort Lee (Gen. Robert E. Lee), and Fort Pickett (Gen. George Pickett) in Virginia.

The Confederate Battle Flag and Confederate symbols and monuments bring about much anxiety and angst, presenting an interesting dilemma. The Confederate Battle Flag represents a form of government and what would have become a nation state that supported, and in fact even promoted, the oppression of human beings through human bondage and slavery.

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This is the very antithesis of our American values and the principles we uphold as a nation. Hateful symbols and monuments in honor of individuals such as J. Marion Sims in New York’s Central Park (pictured above), are a constant reminder of the suffering and pain that African-Americans and communities of color have endured for generations.

We must remove these symbols of hate from our community once and for all. We should not have monuments to our darker times, of such symbols of hate. To continue to place these symbols in a position of respect and reverence is inappropriate, at best and highly offensive. It is absolute and fundamental for all Americans to have a deep appreciation for the Civil War, but let’s recognize these symbols for what they are and for the abhorrence they represent, still today.

As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu reminded us earlier this year during his speech on race and race relations in America, how do we explain this legacy of oppression and second class citizenship to our children, especially minority children, and African-American children in particular. How do we explain to them how they fit into a Confederate equation? How do we teach them right from wrong?

Charlottesville serves as a reminder that we can make a difference and Confederate symbols must be removed from their place of reverence and placed on the scrapheap of history. The No Federal Funding for Confederate Symbols Act, would cut funding and the lifeblood from any Confederate symbol on Federal public land, once and for all, to prevent the hateful violent legacy of the Confederacy from continuing to rear its ugly hate. We defeated the Confederacy once, and we must be willing to defeat it once again, now and forever, as the tribute to the legacy we leave behind for the next generation.

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