Monuments and Markers By Tisa M. Anders, PhD

Monuments in public spaces, along with related critical issues or actions, have been front and center recently due to the Charlottesville, North Carolina tragedy. One young woman was murdered while protesting a white nationalist rally. Many questions emerge from these ashes along with other, similar contexts throughout the world. One stands out in my role as an historian: how do we commemorate tragedy and move into healing stages? Three instances shed light into these complicated yet necessary actions of monument making and creation of other types of markers: removal of Confederate statues as exemplified in Charlottesville (2017); healing through the bones in Cyprus; and the forthcoming Montgomery, Alabama memorial to lynching victims. 
The absence of concern or mention of the victims is a primary problem when dealing with public markers to the victors. In addition, this type of monument frequently lauds the injustices done by the person or the communal group (this can be a family, a city, a nation). That adds salt to open wounds and honors the wrongs. Healing cannot happen when those factors persist. Any type of activity that marks an event or period in history by honoring the abusers and ignoring the victims automatically rules out healing. For it to begin, the harm must be acknowledged. That sometimes means getting rid of the old, offensive markers to make way for more just and humane ways of viewing and remembering events in personal and collective histories. By so doing, we take steps toward healing.
Charlottesville, North Carolina, USA
 “Carnage in Charlottesville leaves 3 dead, 34 injured after white nationalist rally sparked violence, two crashes.” This title of an article begins to capture the events that unfolded in North Carolina, USA, on August 12, 2017. James Fields, 24, of Maumes, Ohio used his car as a weapon to plow into the counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally. In so doing, he murdered anti-racist activist, Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville. Two state troopers also died that day, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates as they monitored the demonstrations from the sky. Tragically, their helicopter fell and burst into flames. An additional 34 persons were wounded in the demonstrations. President Donald Trump’s tepid, controversial response added significant fuel to the fire. Confederate statues feature prominently in this entire situation.

Protesting the upcoming removal of a Robert E. Lee statue (the commanding officer of the Confederacy in the 19th

Robert E. Lee portrait Credit: Public Domain

century U.S. Civil War) turned out to be a primary reason for the white supremacist gathering. Earlier in February 2017, the Charlottesville City Council had voted 3-2 for removal. However, the city was sued to prevent that from happening. The statue advocates gathered in Charlottesville on that fateful August weekend to publicly show their support and to “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests.” In fact, one of the event flyers declared: “A pivotal moment for the pro-white movement in America.” Fortunately, counter-protesters showed up that day as well. A large number were Charlottesville residents who visibly showed their contempt for the white supremacist groups. Solidarity Cville, a Charlottesville-based network of activists and ministers, brought attention to the pro-white rally and urged people to “show opposition.” Other counter-protesters self-identified as anti-fascists. In this context, James Fields murdered Heather Dyer, the two state troopers lost their lives, and over 30 people were injured.

What does this tell us about the legacy of the monuments and markers dedicated to the Confederacy, the unrecognized nation comprised of Southern states which seceded from the United States, 1861-1865? When I study and learn about the Confederacy, I see white people clenching and attempting to hold onto a type of power grounded in greed, hate, fear, and violence. That hateful legacy remains alive in the 21-century white power movement as symbolized by current statuary honoring those out-dated values. We must let go of the old, unjust ways in order to move forward with justice and healing. 

Cyprus, Europe: Healing through the Bones

 A different type of marker or a “marking” of past violence continues to unfold as we speak in Europe. For almost 25 years (1950-1974), a deep divide arose in the country of Cyprus because of a violent conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. The rupture continues into the present day. During the violence, many persons on both sides went missing. Once the official ceasefire took hold, a huge need remained—for citizens to know about and receive closure regarding their loved ones who went missing during the two and a half decades of conflict. In response to resolutions from the United Nations (UN), Cyprus formed the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in 1981. The organization started their investigative work in 1984. This process marked a critical juncture in the nation’s and their citizens’ healing.

Flag of Cyprus

In a new study, Healing through the Bones: Empowerment and the Process of Exhumations in the Context of Cyprus, Kristian T.P. Fics explores the impact these actions have on the memory of that tumultuous period and on healing in this current time of peace. I learned of his book through the International Journal on World Peace (IJWP). In fact, I am reviewing it for this scholarly journal. His focus on “healing through the bones” intrigues me. He demonstrates that this process indeed has brought closure along with peace and calm by allowing the grieving process of the loved ones lost in the fray.
The United Nations reinforced the power and the importance of this process in a nation’s healing. In 1974, this international body passed Resolution 3220. Wording from the resoluation captures the vital necessity for this type of proceeding:
[R]ecognizing that one of the tragic results of armed conflicts is the lack of information on persons – civilians as well as combatants—who are missing in armed conflicts,…. the desire to know the fate of loved ones lost in armed conflicts is a basic human need … and that provision should not be delayed because of other issues pending.”
Fics reported that, as of August 31, 2015, the CMP received the mandate to recover, identify, and return to families the remains of 2,003 persons (492 Turkish Cypriots and 1,511 Greek Cypriots). From 2006 to 2017, the committee had exhumed 1,201 and identified 806 remains of the missing Cyprians.
Fics concludes: 
This research suggests that this study’s participants’ experiences, perceptions and expertise indicates that the process of exhumations is necessary to forge a sustainable and lasting peace in Cyprus. Further, this unique process of the recovery, identification, and reunification of the Missing with their loved ones is a process of empowerment and healing for the relatives of the disappeared” (p. 150).
I concur. Additional healing has taken place due to the bi-communal nature of the process—persons from both sides have worked together through each stage and phase.
Montgomery, Alabama Memorial for Victims of Lynching
In recent months, an article and then a video clip making the rounds on Faceback caught my eye. The first one appeared shortly after the Charlottesville tragedy and the conversations surrounding Confederate monuments. In the written piece, journalist Joshua Zeitz proposes that the United States populace can learn from the Germans and their country’s post-WWII context. He aptly states:  “In Germany, you won’t see neo-Nazis converging on a monument to Reinhard Heydrich or Adolf Hitler, because no such statues exist. The country long ago came to grips with the full weight of its history.” A large part of their healing came from honoring the victims, not the perpetrators. By doing so, the Holocaust markers invite healing, not hate. An example of this in the United States came to my attention on Facebook in the last few weeks: a visual presentation on a forthcoming memorial in Montgomery, Alabama that honors victims of lynching in the United States.
Expected to open in 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) spearheads the planning and development of this new national memorial. They have purchased six acres of land overlooking the City of Montgomery as well as the American South, the geographic location where the majority of these atrocities took place. The organization has documented over 4,000 racial terror lynchings. White mobs between 1877 and 1950 hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beat to death black men, women, and children. This deeply touched the entire nation due to the horrible deaths as well as the millions of African Americans who fled from violent racism to urban communities in the western and northern United States. EJI further captures this profound impact:
In addition, lynching – and other forms of racial terrorism – inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on survivors, witnesses, family members, and the entire African American community. Whites who participated in or witnessed gruesome lynchings and socialized their children in this culture of violence also were psychologically damaged. And state officials’ indifference to and complicity in lynchings created enduring national and institutional wounds that we have not yet confronted or begun to heal.
In like manner to the healing aspect of Cyprians finding and identifying their missing persons, this memorial is critical for the United States and all her people. Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s director, asserts that our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.” EJI adds to his wise words: “We all must engage this history more honestly, and a memorial creates that opportunity.” I couldn’t have said it better.
We cannot ignore the fact that racism is not relegated to the past. I wish that was the case. Instead, it remains alive and well in 21st-century United States as shown in the Charlottesville tragedy and the highly-contested controversies over removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces. Moving toward healing takes atonement, accountability, and responsibility. One way is to honor the pain. We do so by acknowledging the victims and giving voice to the past and present such as finding the Missing Persons in Cyprus and memorializing the victims of lynching in the United States. Our present and future healing depends on this acknowledgment which count as first steps.

About Tisa

Founded in 2007, Writing the World, LLC, provides writing and writing-related assistance, public speaking, and nonprofit services. For them, writing invites ideas, histories, connections, creations, dreams, and aspirations to come to life. They follow their Founder's, Tisa M. Anders', motto: As we write the world, may we also right it with justice, nonviolence, and peace. Anders brings her many years of professional expertise to the service of the general public and academia in this sacred process of writing: over 20 years' experience as a published author, independent scholar, and executive manager in the nonprofit arena.
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