WASHINGTON – NAACP president Derrick Johnson said cities and local governments across the nation should move Confederate statues to cemeteries rather than museums.
Johnson was asked if the NAACP supports localities making their own individual decisions on the location of Confederate statues or if he would like to see an “across-the-board” approach to the issue.
“Part one, a symbol that recognizes treason should not represent a governmental entity, period. If there are those who want to recognize and celebrate that, it’s OK to relocate them in a museum or a cemetery. I prefer cemetery,” Johnson said at a National Press Club luncheon last week to laughter from the audience. “Part two, even if it exists, we believe people have the right to have monuments, but it should not be financed by public dollars, on public display. It should not.”
Johnson emphasized that there should be no Confederate symbols on any state flags.
“Thirdly, and this is closer to me, there should be no state that still has a Confederate symbol in the flag, like Mississippi. The symbol that we identify as the Confederate flag wasn’t even the Confederate flag. It was the battle flag of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. When he died, he stated that the relics of the Confederacy should be buried. He did not want any of those symbols when he died,” Johnson said.
“The Confederate flag, as we now identify it as, was resurrected in the 1930s during the second reign of terror when whites, particularly in the South but across the country, after watching The Birth of a Nation in 1914, began to use it as a symbol of terrorism,” he said. “We quickly identified the burning cross in someone’s yard as a sign of terrorism, but next to the cross was always that Confederate symbol. It should not exist. It should not be tolerated, and if there are any entities that have a display of 50 flags, remove Mississippi’s flag if you want to move forward as a nation.”
Johnson predicted that more incidents of racially motivated violence like the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville would occur in the United States.
“There will be many Charlottesvilles because unfortunately this administration has created an atmosphere to allow domestic terrorists to exist. To allow those who understand and have a sense of history that the monuments that have been erected in the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, for the most part, are monuments to individuals who took up arms against this nation – it’s treasonous – over the question of exploiting people for free labor,” he said.
“We shouldn’t celebrate that. This shouldn’t exist, but we should not get distracted over the question of its existence when the real issue confronting us is, who controls the public policy and whether or not we have a voice in that process,” Johnson added.
The moderator asked Johnson what he thinks civil rights groups and average Americans should do to “deflect” hate speech. In response, Johnson said certain “public policy” decisions have made it “uncomfortable for racial hate groups to exist” and have contributed to the decline in their membership numbers.
“This is where public policy matters. In 1915, when Woodrow Wilson aired The Birth of a Nation in the White House, it sent a signal to terrorists that they should increase their ranks. And we’ve seen an explosion in the membership of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and other similarly situated organizations,” he said. “That signal created a void that we had to fight against from that period, before that period, all the way up through the ’70s with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and many other acts. But it was public policy that made it uncomfortable for racial hate groups to exist, and we’ve seen their membership numbers dwindle.”
The NAACP leader said policies like affirmative action have made life better for everyone.
“We’ve seen individuals benefit from policies we were pushing; i.e., affirmative action. More white women benefited from affirmative action than African-Americans. I cannot point to a single civil rights piece of legislation that we’ve advocated for that it only affected African-Americans. No, it makes democracy work. It makes the quality of life for everybody better,” he said.
“If it’s us today, it will be you tomorrow. You, meaning the Jewish community; you, meaning Irish community; you, meaning Italians; you, meaning those with red hair and one earring in the left ear – because people seek to divide, and if they are successful in dividing they can divert from the real questions,” he said. “The real question in this country right now is economic security and when people feel insecure, they look for what tribe they’re going to be a part of and sometimes that tribe are tribes that are misinformed about what history really tells them over this question of white supremacy.”
Johnson continued, “It is our role to unveil truth. It is our role to push for public policy that provides protection and it is also our role to build coalitions across racial lines so we can make sure that when they come for us today, you understand that if you allow it to happen, they’re coming for you tomorrow.”