Because of a recent Twitter exchange, I want to talk about something important, but I need to use a few more words.
For context, I retweeted a news story that a confederate monument had been toppled in Lake Charles, by Hurricane Laura. It turns out the local government had recently declined to remove that statue. My retweet affirmed my belief that these statues must come down, and I added an observation about a hurricane’s effectiveness in making it happen.
Bring ‘em all down. This way works, too… https://t.co/THUB4TKOxq— Sen. Susan Kent (@SusanKentMN) August 27, 2020
That tweet, and a response I added, generated a lot of positive reaction but some disagreement – some civil, others not.
Let me be clear that I encourage the LEGAL removal of these statues. I do not advocate people do so outside of legal channels. But we must be urgent in legally bringing them down.
Let me also be clear to those who try to equate taking down these statues with erasing history. We must learn and understand history, and in this case I do.
First, several of my ancestors are named on some of these statues. They weren’t celebrated or even talked about in my family, and I grew up fully understanding that our ancestors were on the wrong side of history. I mostly learned about their military service from genealogy. I‘d known that my family had been modest farmers across the south until my grandparents became teachers, a salesman, and a secretary. I did later learn at a family reunion about my 2nd great-grandfather being listed on the statue on the town square of Troy, Alabama. I can’t help but think that Congressman John Lewis, who grew up in the same area, would have walked by that statue when he went to town. And that breaks my heart.
These statues were erected years after the Confederacy surrendered. They were placed in prominent public locations during the Jim Crow era as a deliberate sign of white supremacy.
If there’s any doubt, the picture I’ve posted is from a statue that former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had removed, along with three others. Read it. His actions were attacked, but righteous. No one should have to walk in public spaces surrounded by monuments and symbols of hatred toward them.
As a proud Minnesotan who has the great privilege of representing my community in the Minnesota Senate, the only confederate flag I’m ok seeing displayed publicly is the one captured by the 1st Minnesota from a Virginia regiment at Gettysburg.
Moving these statues and symbols from public pedestals and into history museums and textbooks is the best way to teach the real history of slavery in the United States. I know many people of my generation believed or hoped that the Civil Rights actions of the 1960s would solve the problems of racism and disparities. I also know many have since realized that much work remains to be done. Speaking to my white sisters and brothers, we have to be comfortable with the discomfort of this truth and these conversations. And that includes questioning how Jacob Blake could be shot in the back seven times – with his young kids watching – for being a threat, while a vigilante shot and killed two people and went home that night.
Dr. Martin Luther King told us that the “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We each have a role to play in that journey, with many miles left to travel. I also believe that the pandemic, resulting economic crisis, and George Floyd’s murder have shined a very bright light on our racial disparities – giving us an historic opportunity to make meaningful and transformative changes in many of the institutions of our society.
In the immediate weeks after George Floyd was killed, in the Minnesota legislature, we were able to make an important first step in police reform and accountability. I was honored to be a part of the work done under the great leadership of members of our People of Color and Indigenous Caucus. But we know there so much more to be done, and I am committed to doing my part.
Susan Kent, Minnesota Senate DFL Minority Leader