Monuments and memorials speak tremendously to the importance of placemaking, and they allow us to chronicle and interpret the past. The ways in which we do so shed light on our contemporary social and political values. More than mere reminders of people and events from long ago, they allow for introspection and prospection—reflecting us and serving as windows into our inherited past and future. Embedded in these reflections are the convictions and attitudes of those occupying the spaces around these markers, and undoubtedly, the cultural landscapes that they create evolve into societal autobiographies. Today’s cultural dialogue surrounding monument protection presents a unique opportunity in jurisprudence, especially in regard to there interpretation, repurposing, and removal of Civil War-centered monuments and memorials erected in the postbellum United States. Never has there been such a unique moment in history to discuss the complexities of these monuments and the ways in which they have contributed to and detracted from our collective sense of place. In 2021, seventy-three Confederate monuments were removed or renamed, and as of 2022, more than 2,000 monuments and memorials remained in place throughout the United States. Lest we forget, the shortness of our collective memory dictates that decisions on the placement and interpretation of these structures not be taken lightly.
Jess Phelps and Jessica Owley