John Oliver Has A Few Suggestions On How Best To Replace Confederate Monuments

"Monuments are not how we record history."

The issue of whether to remove monuments to the Confederacy has divided much of the country over the past several months. In August, the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was at the center of a White nationalist rally during which counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed. This past Saturday night, another torch-lit rally was held at the statue, led by Richard Spencer.

On Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver addressed the issue of Confederate monuments, specifically responding to some of the common arguments made against the statues' removal. As usual, he did so with facts, reasoned explanation, and plenty of humor.


Oliver agreed with the assertion that we should remember history, but challenged the idea that removing Confederate monuments would somehow erase the past. "Monuments are not how we record history. Books are. Museums are. Ken Burns' 12-part miniseries are," the host reminded his audience. "Statues are how we glorify people."

But Oliver also wanted to make sure everyone knew the actual history these monuments are commemorating. "The Confederacy was fighting for the preservation of slavery," he stated. "And that's not my opinion. That's just a fact. There are many ways that we know this."

The host pointed to states' declarations of secession, as well as the Confederate constitution and a speech from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, all of which mention slavery or White supremacy. Despite this obvious evidence, a 2011 study found that only 38 percent of Americans believed the Civil War was mainly about slavery, with 48 percent saying it was mainly about states' rights.

"That's a very hard fact for some people to accept, especially if a member of your family fought for the Confederacy," Oliver said of some people's hesitance to associate the cause with slavery. However, Oliver showed — with a little help from the show Finding Your Roots — that it is possible to "actively, painfully come to grips" with a family history of slave-owning.

"If we really want to learn from and honor our history, perhaps the first step might be to put most of these statues somewhere more appropriate, surrounded by ample historical context, like in a museum," Oliver suggested, and even shared a few ideas for how cities could replace Confederate statues with more deserving subjects.

In Buford County, S.C., for example, he suggested a statue of Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery and served five terms in Congress. For Atlanta, Tex., he suggested Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman pilot. His idea for Florida was a little more NSFW, but few people can argue with his choice for Charleston, S.C. — the real-life Stephen Colbert.

Watch Oliver's full segment on the issue below:


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