NewsomWe need new statues.

The statues set up in the Jim Crow era were set up for a variety of reasons. Many, if not most, were rear-guard resistance movements—testimony to unreconstructed rebels. A few do seem to have attempted merely to commemorate the dead soldiers. So far as I know, no statue—at least in the south—was erected to commemorate those who died in slavery or to celebrate the breaking of chains.

Some of the individuals who are represented in the contested statues are far more complex persons, with far more complex histories, than one would guess from the way in which they have become tokens in our current political situation. I often ponder—with more than a little concern about my own moral substance—how individuals who were not personally vicious could have been drawn into defending a system that was so palpably evil.

We look to art to give expression to our deepest feelings and sometimes to envision a hope we cannot put into words. Today we stand in need of the most profound art. I do not discount those who look at the Confederate statues and say that to them they represent their heritage. But I think they look to these statues because they have no better image. And these are not adequate images.

So much went wrong in the decades after the end of the Civil War. Perhaps, even if Lincoln had not been assassinated, it would have been difficult to have a redemptive healing, but as events transpired, it became impossible. And as a people, we have never come to terms with the delayed completion of the moral work of forging a new nation with full inclusion of all. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s finally began that work. But as we can now see clearly, it remains painfully incomplete.

This will be a long process. Now, more than ever, we need the artists. We need those who can put into images and music and poetry and story—and, above all, statues—the emotion and meaning of this long anguish. But even more, we need images of the possibility of hope that can emerge from our belated engagement with our painful past.

We need new statues.

Top photo: This Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina, was toppled by protestors on August 14 (Wikimedia Commons).