I have been a member of the Auburn family since the day I was born. Both of my parents attended Auburn in the 90s, and as alumni, weekends in the Fall growing-up were spent on the Plains. I believe this gives me a unique perspective on the evolution of Auburn’s campus and the way our history is displayed. I cannot say that I have always been particularly attentive to history on campus, but what I can say is that I certainly have noticed over the years how campus has evolved and has seemingly become more open about its own storied history.
As a child, the history told on campus always seemed to be centered around how great Auburn (white) men were and their contributions to society. The only people of color that were talked about were athletes, and women were almost entirely not mentioned. Being that I was raised in an “Alt-Right” conservative household, I was discouraged from inquiring into the more meaningful histories of Auburn as they may paint the university in a “bad light.” As time passed, however, I began to think for myself and realized Auburn was leaving out a lot of its own history. There weren’t any discussions about the legacy of racism and hate on campus and the symbols of that hate that were prominently displayed, i.e., the Lathe.
Now, while there still aren’t many, there are monuments and/or historic markers to people of color and women that have begun the discussion and recognition of a more accurate Auburn history and its legacy in dealing with racism and discrimination. I think this is a step in the right direction in attempting to heal and lead to a brighter future on Auburn’s campus.
During my interview, I noticed a few sections of the survey that may have been a bit outdated. I think the best way to address these issues would to be re-frame the questions to be more applicable to the modern world. What I mean by this is that we should include social media and more electronic medias, especially history based video games. Personally, I play a lot historical games that, while not always particularly accurate, they do, in my opinion, a good job of connecting people with the past.
Furthermore, during the interview, I did notice there were parts that were particularly effective at getting the interviewee to engage with her own experiences with, not only her own personal past, but the collective past. I think if we could expand on the idea of asking about physical interaction with the past we could get a more in-depth look at how people engage with and understand the past. Lastly, I think the demographics section could be more in-depth so that we can better understand how different socio-economic groups engage with the past.
My first experience, that most clearly sticks out in my mind, was visiting the USS Alabama in Mobile. I was about 8 or 9 years old, and it was memorable to me because of how it made me feel to actually be able to see and touch history and see how things were for the men that served not only on that ship, but also in WWII.
When we look at monuments, what do we see? We may see an enormous statue dedicated to the generals of past wars, or memorials to those that fell during conflict, fighting for what they believed in, or we may see a monument to the ideals of a bygone era. While, objectively, each of these types of monument is inherently important to the historical narrative, and is a piece of history we cannot afford to forget lest we run the risk of committing the same mistakes, we can still learn about and from them if they were removed from their current public space into a museum. It is my opinion that it is the states’ responsibility to not perpetuate the racist ideals associated with Confederate monuments. What that means is the deliberate placement of these memorials on state property, i.e. the capitol building in Montgomery, AL., should be banned. These things can be moved into museums and still serve the purpose of educating future generations of the atrocities of the Old South. By placing them in front of a building that is supposed to be dedicated to the equal protection under the law of ALL citizens certainly undermines that idea by alienating those not born white in the South.
All of that said, I must be clear, I do not support the destruction of these monuments because of their historical significance. They are too important to be effectively removed from the narrative all together. Furthermore, I recognize that not all would be able to be moved to a new location, and for those I would suggest either the alteration of the monument to more accurately display them for what they are, or we better contextualize them so that we are no longer painting the Confederates as heroes. They were traitors that were upset they couldn’t own people anymore. I’ll leave you with this: if we continue to idolize these men and ideals, we are no better than them. If anything, we’re worse because at least they had the guts to actually fight for what they believed in, however evil and corrupted their beliefs were.