Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whose non-violent activism ended 200 years of British rule over his native India, was honored in Africa as a revered adopted son of the continent, having practiced law in South Africa for 21 years, and inspired Martin Luther King Jr. That was then.
A Gandhi statue was removed from the University of Ghana in the middle of the night in December 2018 amid insistent claims that his writings reflected racism, including this passage from one of his books: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kafﬁr whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness," Al Jazeera reported. Work was halted on a statue of Gandhi in Malawi after wide protests.
In Britain, a Gandhi statue was boarded up during protests against racism sparked by the now worldwide Black Life Matters movement that put him in the company of slave-traders Edward Colson and Robert Milligan, imperialist Cecil Rhodes and even Winston Churchill, whose statue was also boarded up after being defaced.
Hindu nationalists in India have been demanding the destruction of monuments marking the country’s colonization, including the Taj Mahal, erected in 1639 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan on what is believed to be the site of a Hindu temple. In Australia, protesters are demanding the removal of a statue of explorer James Cook. In France, there are calls to take down a statue of Louis Faidherbe, who helped colonize Algeria and was governor of Senegal. In Belgium, there are calls to get rid of all statues of King Leopold, whose brutal rule over Congo “caused an estimated 10 million Congolese deaths through murder, starvation and disease,” The Guardian noted.
“Slavery is still very real history for black people — we are still living with the consequences of it, with a racial hierarchy that puts black people at the bottom,” Mary Ononokpono, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge, told Reuters. “Britain, Europe and America — and Africa — have to confront their history. We urgently need to have a long-overdue and honest discussion about the history of slavery and its legacy of impoverishment.”
But there is a vast difference between such symbols of racism and monuments in the U.S. which glorify the defeat of men who committed treason in their bid to preserve slavery and their Confederacy, launching the Civil War which killed 620,000 people between 1861 and 1865. It continues to be astonishing that they are celebrated by, of all people, the United States military, which named several installations after them: Camp Beauregard in Louisiana, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Fort Pickett, Virginia, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Lee, Virginia, Fort Rucker, Alabama, Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Fort Benning, Georgia.
It should be no surprise that, In the midst of the George Floyd protests and the threats of President Donald Trump to deploy the military against civilian demonstrations, an increasing number of Americans are demanding that the names be changed. Trump has declared that he “will not even consider” it but some branches of the military are. Also, the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to that effect. Trump’s opposition led The Lincoln Project, comprising dissident Republicans, to dub him “the Confederacy’s second president.”
Municipalities and states have been slowly taking action, notably Virginia under Democratic state leadership. In Florida, the city of Hollywood voted in 2017 to rename three streets honoring Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford. Broward County removed a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward from the county courthouse.
Still, the state flag bears the pro-Confederacy St. Andrew’s Cross. The birthdates of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis are legal holidays, along with Confederate Memorial Day. Several counties and cities host monuments or symbols in public and private spaces. Legislative efforts to do away with the 61 or so monuments have stalled.
Support for the “lost cause” of the Confederacy defeat persist. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a proclamation declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month” that includes the Latin words “Deo Vindice” meaning “Under God as our Vindicator.” Alabama celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day on the same day. At least seven Southern states have passed laws making it more difﬁcult to remove monuments, according to Karen Cox, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, The Post reported. While more than 100 were removed after the June 17, 2015, mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, SC, more than 30 were erected in the last 20 years.
Still, the impetus for ending the gloriﬁcation of treason and racism is gaining steam with the George Floyd protests. “It does look like there’s critical mass now and maybe people are listening in a way they didn’t before,” Cox said. She added, “In the end, these battles are not as much about law as about who owns history.”
History, meet George Floyd.