Normally I’d be thrilled to find a lawmaker who’s passionate about historic preservation, but Rep. Benton’s motives seem…well, to say they’re “other than noble” would be putting it charitably:
He flatly asserts the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery, compares Confederate leaders to the Founding Fathers and is profoundly irritated with what he deems a “cultural cleansing” of Southern history. He also said the Ku Klux Klan, while he didn’t agree with all of their methods, “made a lot of people straighten up.”
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s an elected official defending the KKK in the year 2016. According to Benton, the Klan “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.” And to promote the wearing of festive, pointy-headed costumes, one might add.
Benton’s views are why for years he has pushed legislation that would protect the state’s historical monuments from being marred or moved. This year he is stepping up his efforts with two newly introduced measures, one of which seeks to amend the state constitution to permanently protect the carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at Stone Mountain.
Aaaannnnnddd this is one reason why it’s hard for conscientious preservationists who prefer to leave historic monuments in their original context to make their case. There are plenty of folks out there who have no desire to endorse or perpetuate the sentiments these monuments’ creators wanted to express; they just want to leave historic landscapes intact so that we can interpret them as we would a historic home or an artifact. But with yahoos like Benton running their mouths, it’s easy to assume that the only folks who oppose removing Confederate monuments are racist ignoramuses. The best thing Rep. Benton could do for historic preservation would be to put as much daylight between himself and other preservationists as possible.
Oh, and he doesn’t think the Civil War was about slavery, because of course he doesn’t.
Benton, a retired middle school history teacher, equates Confederate leaders with the American revolutionaries of the 18th century — fighting a tyrannical government for political independence.
“The war was not fought over slavery,” he said. Those who disagree “can believe what they want to,” he said.
He used to teach middle school history, and now he’s a legislator. You decide which is more disturbing; I’ll be slamming my forehead against a desk somewhere.