Historians Question Trump’s Comments on Confederate Monuments - The New York Times
President Trump is not generally known as a student of history. But on Tuesday, during a combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower in New York, he unwittingly waded into a complex debate about history and memory that has roiled college campuses and numerous cities over the past several years.
Asked about the white nationalist rally that ended in violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., Mr. Trump defended some who had gathered to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee, and criticized the “alt-left” counterprotesters who had confronted them.
“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Mr. Trump said. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down.”
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the president noted, were also slave owners. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week?” Mr. Trump said. “And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”
Mr. Grossman [executive director of the American Historical Association] noted that most Confederate monuments were constructed in two periods: the 1890s, as Jim Crow was being established, and in the 1950s, during a period of mass Southern resistance to the civil rights movement.
“We would not want to whitewash our history by pretending that Jim Crow and disenfranchisement or massive resistance to the civil rights movement never happened,” he said. “That is the part of our history that these monuments testify to.”
How the events in Charlottesville, and Mr. Trump’s comments, will affect the continuing debate over Confederate monuments remains to be seen. Mr. Witt [a professor of history at Yale], for one, suggested that white nationalist support might backfire.
He noted that it was the 2015 murder of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist that led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse.
“The amazing thing is that the president is doing more to endanger historical monuments than most of the protesters,” he said. “The alt-right is producing a world where there is more pressure to remove monuments, rather than less.”