The debate over Confederate monument burns just as hotly in California as it does in the states of the former Confederacy
On Nov. 1, associate professor of history Dr. Ryan Keating gave a presentation in the Pfau Library on “Confederate Memorials and the Lingering Legacy of Racism in America’s South,” during which a heated, verbal altercation broke out between a group of students.
He explored the history leading up to the Civil War, the reconstruction period that followed, and the political shift that occurred in the South due to the repression of African American political rights during this period.
After his presentation, Dr. Keating opened the floor up for student questions.
As the questions continued, the topic shifted from the issue of the statues to a general discussion of free speech, violence, and whether or not people who participate in rallies like those that occurred in Charlottesville and Gainesville earlier this year should be allowed to have a platform.
An argument sparked between a few students, during which a student wearing a jacket with a crossed out swastika, who was unavailable for an interview, extended the middle finger to another student who disagreed with him over the subject.
“Within his ideology, he doesn’t believe that there should be freedom of speech and I think that’s a very sad thing,” said student Ruben Lopez about the man who made the obscene gesture.
The student passionately argued against allowing such rallies, touting the violence towards participants of the recent Gainesville rally organized by prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer as an example to follow, which Lopez took exception to.
On the issue of the Confederate monuments, Lopez said, “What’s stopping us from tearing down the Jefferson memorial or tearing down Union memorials? Because they did advocate for an ethnostate and the removal of Native Americans. Why aren’t we tearing those down? We should keep those to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.”
Although a few other students chimed in with their thoughts, most of the audience elected to stay silent during this argument.
“It’s important not to downplay this call for violence that these people have,” said Brandon Fins, who attended the rally and witnessed the confrontation between the two students. “They can’t go to a debate stage, a public forum, and stay peaceful and debate their ideas based on their own merits.”
Despite this incident, Dr. Keating’s presentation was generally well received by the audience.
After the speech, student John Sparks named, “The timeline of the monuments and schools,” as the most interesting aspect of the presentation, referring to a chart from the Southern Poverty Law Center that displayed the number of Confederate monuments dedicated every year following the end of the Civil War.
Sparks, like many students, was surprised how recently many of these monuments were built and for what purpose.
The two periods during which the most monuments were dedicated were 1906-1916, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil War, and the 1960s, as a reaction against the Civil Rights movement.
While it may be tempting to dismiss the relevance of this issue to students in California, it’s worth bearing in mind that this state has also been a key battleground in the debate over Confederate monuments and free speech.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, even California has a smattering of Confederate monuments spread across the state.
Throughout this past year, the state has also born witness to a series of violent protests over the topic of free speech on college campuses called “The Battle of Berkeley.”
As the incident during Dr. Keating’s presentation has shown, the same tension that sparked violence in Berkeley exists here at CSUSB.