I am saddened by the events of the past couple weeks and the treatment that Black Americans have had to deal with. I have an article coming out on Monday dealing with that. Yet as an historian I am also saddened by the treatment of our physical history. I am emotional seeing monuments vandalized and destroyed. I am saddened by the removal of historical statues, also more on that soon. Then this morning I read a story that upset and frankly baffles me, the removal of a slave auction stone from Virginia.
Those who want to remove Confederate monuments often compare them to statues of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Hitler is part of their history and yet they do not keep up statues to him. I do not agree with this example, but I do understand it. However, removing the auction stone is comparable to removing the concentration camps that are still standing. Four million Jews were killed in those camps yet the Jewish people want those camps to stand. They want to remind the world that men are capable of committing evil. They want to make sure the world never forgets.
To me that is why we keep the stone. No one is honoring or celebrating it. That stone is there to remind us of the evils that men can do and the pain we can inflict. That stone is there so that possibly when a child passes it with their parents and asks what it is, the parent can tell the child that there was a time when we bought and sold human being and tore families apart. We need our history; it is what makes us, warts and all.
I am constantly being reminded of the warning George Orwell gave us in 1984 when he wrote, ““Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”