The Left has made the removal of monuments to the Confederacy their cause du jour. The alt-right, white-nationalist rally and its ensuing violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend stemmed from the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and in the wake of the horrific events in that town, more monuments have come down while others are sure to follow.
Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s governor, has called for the removal of the iconic Confederate memorial carving on Stone Mountain, just outside of Atlanta. A little further east, in my hometown of Covington, the county Board of Commissioners heard from a handful of citizens who want the Confederate monument at the center of the town square removed or relocated; for what it’s worth, our first African-American county commission chair has said that he doesn’t want our town to become another Charlottesville.
One voice from the civil rights movement has chimed in on the new trend of erasing the history of the Confederacy. Former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador Andrew Young told reporters on Tuesday that the fight to remove Confederate monuments is not worth having. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Young:
“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War,” Young said Wednesday at a press conference in which he and fellow civil rights icon C.T. Vivian endorsed Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell to succeed Kasim Reed as the city’s next mayor. “We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together.”
Young said that he believes that civil rights movements of the past and present have been mistaken in targeting the symbols of even ugly history and should have concentrated more on fighting for issues like economic progress and education. He also reiterated the tried-and-true adage that nonviolent protests are the way to bring about genuine change.
The former mayor turned heads later on in the press conference when he said that the fight over removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag cost the state business and generated more bad attention than good. In the early-2000s, Democratic governor Roy Barnes spearheaded the ultimately successful attempt to change the state flag.
Young said that he believed the flap over the flag quashed a deal to bring a Mercedes-Benz plant to South Georgia. The facility would have brought 3,000 jobs to a part of the state that needed them the most. He told reporters, “I’ve always been interested more in substance over symbols.”
The civil rights icon also reiterated his belief that roiling violence like that in Charlottesville would not happen in Atlanta. In Young’s words, the metropolis known as the “city too busy to hate” has too much brotherhood to generate that kind of anger. As WSB-TV reported:
“You go to any job in the city or building at any time and you will see black and white on any job in the city,” he said. “That is the tradition that has thrived here when it’s been threatened everywhere else in the world.”
He should know. As the South has changed, Andrew Young served alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement and later represented Georgia in Congress. Of course, he led the city of Atlanta for eight years in the ’80s.
I don’t agree with Andrew Young on much, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. Young understands that removing monuments to the past — even painful, difficult periods in history — does nothing to erase those events, but those memorials can serve as teachable moments that help shape the future. If only we could hear more reasonable voices like his from either side of the aisle.