Do we need a law against moving monuments?

Now, here’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for stirring up debate in the historical blogosphere:

A new bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would prohibit local governments from hiding or removing statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee or other Confederate army heroes indefinitely.…

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, introduced the proposal at the request of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The bill, if passed, would require that monuments be kept in a prominent place. It would also make it illegal to “deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously” any memorial dedicated to the Confederate army.

“We’re not saying they can’t move them,” Benton said. “We’re just saying they can’t just put them in a field somewhere.”

You can read the proposed bill yourself by clicking here. It’s pretty short, so go ahead and give it a look.

Of course, I’m in favor of throwing the book at anybody who mutilates or damages historic monuments and markers, but I would assume Georgia already has vandalism laws to cover that sort of thing. As for the bill’s more novel provisions to stop such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered,” I’m not sure what to think.

My inclination in disputes over older monuments is usually to let them be and keep them in good condition, since they have intrinsic historic value. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a state law prohibiting local government agencies from moving monuments except in cases of construction projects, since the bill (if I understand it correctly) makes no distinction among monuments “dedicated to a historical entity” based on their age or significance.

What do you guys think?

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7 Comments

Filed under American Revolution, Civil War, History and Memory

7 responses to “Do we need a law against moving monuments?

  1. My concerns about this law are two, and they’re fundamental. First, the proposed law strips local governments of their authority to control monuments in their own communities, and second, it only applies to a select subset of monuments, while leaving others unprotected.

    • Michael Lynch

      It does seem weird that WWI or Span-Am War monuments aren’t given the same protection as Rev War and Civil War monuments.

      I can understand why the SCV is worried about people wanting to remove or relocate monuments to less conspicuous areas, since controversies over CSA monuments pop up from time to time. But the inclusion of Rev War monuments is a little surprising.

      • The bill was prompted by requests from the SCV and the Sons of the American Revolution. I get that the SCV places a higher priority on Confederate monuments, and the SAR does the same with monuments from the American Revolution. Fair enough, but it makes for bad public policy to write those (or any other) particular groups’ preferences into law.

  2. Hm. Seems problematic to me. Almost akin to the problems we deal with in the museum world when donors want to stipulate requirements that their object be permanently on display, or permanently placed in a certain location. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is probably the poster child for the negative implications of that. You never know what circumstances come up and you don’t want to tie the hands of future generations. I can think of about half a dozen CW monuments in Boston that have been moved and not to detrimental effect. Now, as to the rules about vandalism…of course that is appropriate. But as Andy noted, why produce such legislation that only focuses on Confederate monuments?

    • Patrick, I hear you regarding museum donors. They don’t want the whatsis enough to keep and care for it, but expect the museum to commit to keeping and displaying it permanently. The best thing a curator can do is establish a firm collections management policy, one of the primary uses of which is to enable to museum to say “no” to such demands.

  3. Imagine had Congress proposed a bill to keep Mitt Romney from removing the busts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln, from the Oval Office as he promised to do.

    Is there a problem with this stuff in the South? Seriously?

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