I am writing in response to the letters of Ms. Depoy and Ms. Cooper published September 8, 2017 on the topic of removal of Confederate statues currently under discussion in many cities and towns throughout of the United States. As a graduate of UTC, Notre Dame High School, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parochial School, I was so glad to see both letters—they were honest and expressed a very fair range of opinion voiced in an appropriate and constructive manner. Both letters are important, and both reminded me of why I loved going to school and living in Southeast Tennessee.
Chattanooga was always, for me, a place where my friends and neighbors always heard me out, even if they did not agree with me. And sadly I find this type of informal exchange now sorely needed and extremely lacking at the national level.
I have a few observations that I wanted to share, in the same constructive vein fostered by these two letters. My experience working as an attorney for museums for the last several years gives me a different perspective on the way historic preservation works—including legal and regulatory requirements for museum construction and landscape architecture where these statues are located. I should also say that I don’t think anything about my perspective or experience makes me right, or wrong, and I thank you for your indulgence in hearing me out.
Observation #1. The removal of Confederate statues by many cities, including Charlottesville and Baltimore, has been under discussion by the city officials in some cases years prior to the current kerfuffle over the issue. These discussions are appropriate to the roles of representatives elected by the people who live in these cities and are not the result of some weird conspiracy. To me this means that people in areas like Baltimore and Charlottesville want something different in their parks, and are using the available democratic procedures to achieve that. In the very political climate engulfing our country, I believe this fact is often overlooked and overshadowed. There’s a simple way to handle Ms. Depoy’s Confederate statue debate fatigue: write to your elected representatives, and tell them what you want in your parks. Talk to them about what those statues mean to you. Talk about what scares you when you see them removed. Please note that I have recommended talking, instead of yelling, screaming and/or pitchforks. The last time I checked, Chattanooga was still operating on a direct democratic system, and I believe it will continue to do so.
Observation #2. If you really do identify with the history of your state, city or town, do more to understand and support those places before it gets to this point. Museums are always great places to start this process. National Parks are, too. Many are struggling with reduced funding and low attendance, but if the current debate upsets you, use your frustration to learn more about the issue and make your voice really count. See some art. Read a book. Buy a t-shirt, for heavens’ sake. If I had a dime for every craft fair dream catcher I see hanging from car rearview mirrors, I could probably start my own museum, and endow a research position to help people understand how Native American history has absolutely nothing to do with tacky vehicle accessories. The popularity of the fluffy, sparkling, completely inaccurate dream catcher in people’s homes and cars tell me that they desire a connection to Native American culture, but no clue how to really find that. Likewise, the ferocity of this debate over removal of Confederate statues in towns tells me people have an idea of their history that is extremely important to them. How we express that love and connection says so much about us. The truth is not pretty, nor does it change because we wish it were different. But we can look at it and understand it better together. At their best, that’s what museums and parks try to do—bring people together to learn something.
In closing, I admit openly to a conflict of interest in making these observations. I work for museums, I love them, and I want to use this discussion as an opportunity to help them. Again, thank you for hearing me out.