A statue in a public place can serve many pur­poses, but outside of the proper context of a bat­tle­field or other spe­cific location, its main role is to honor someone. That is what Con­fed­erate statues do: honor gen­erals, sol­diers, and politi­cians that rep­re­sented the Con­fed­eracy.

The Civil War was about slavery, and these statues were placed in prominent loca­tions to honor those who pro­tected the insti­tution of slavery. This becomes painfully obvious when you look at the dates on which these statues were erected. The majority of Con­fed­erate statues were built during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement, times in which southern states enforced the strictest and most racist policies since the end of slavery.

These statues portray General Lee and others as pow­erful leaders on horseback — as heroes. There is a sense of irony when Lee’s statue sits in the center of “Eman­ci­pation Square” and there are schools with majority black student bodies that bear his name.

These statues, which show Con­fed­erates as heroes, should be removed, not by a destructive mob, but by the state or local gov­ernment. We must not repeat the actions of those in the past who decided to burn any­thing they dis­agreed with. Instead, these statues should be placed in a location of suitable context, in a public or private museum, or sold to a private owner.

We must not bury the sins of our past, but more impor­tantly, we must not portray those who fought a war to defend one of the most evil insti­tu­tions in the history of the world as heroes. General Lee and others may have been great gen­erals, and Amer­icans can cor­rectly remember on a bat­tle­field, as Get­tysburg has done, or in a museum. For school names though, they should be renamed as there is no proper way to place them in the correct context. It is a tragedy for stu­dents to attend a school named after someone who fought for their ancestors’ enslavement.

This lib­er­tarian argument breaks from both con­ser­v­a­tives and pro­gres­sives, as private own­ership of mon­u­ments and statues allows them to exist without the gov­ernment owning them or having them in public squares. Museums holding the statues will ensure the preser­vation of history. It will allow the intricate history of General Lee and the Con­fed­eracy to be doc­u­mented and pre­sented with ade­quate context, both good and bad.

This must not be man­dated by the federal gov­ernment, however, because it is far outside its con­sti­tu­tional powers and role. Polls show the majority of people want statues to remain when given the option of com­plete removal or having them stay, but another poll states that when given the option to place statues in the ade­quate context or in museums, most people support this option. This is a key dif­ference: Remember them but do not ven­erate them.

Black children should not have to grow up looking at statues hon­oring the men that fought to keep their race enslaved. White children should not grow up looking at statues hon­oring men who fought to enslave another race.

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Instead, these statues should show the power tyran­nical gov­ernment has whenever natural rights and rule of law are not cher­ished and pro­tected. The oppressive history of American slavery also teaches us a lesson about the threat gov­ernment can pose to our lib­erties. The same gov­ernment that can choose which races and reli­gions to spe­cially protect can also promote the enslavement of a race, imprison people of dif­ferent nation­al­ities in internment camps, beat non-violent pro­testers in the streets, prevent people from speaking about con­tro­versial ideas, and restrict the right to worship freely.

In the words of F.A. Hayek: “We shall not grow wiser before we learn that what we have done was very foolish.” We must accept mis­takes of the past without dwelling on them, so that we ensure they do not happen again.

Brendan Noble is a senior studying eco­nomics. He is the pres­ident of Young Amer­icans for Liberty.