In late spring of 1965, I went with my mother on a Friday night to see “A Patch of Blue” in Memphis, Tennessee, where we were living at the time. I do not remember much of the movie except that Sidney Poitier had a relationship with a white, blind woman.

What I do remember is that it was dark when we left the movie theater and there were many Ku Klux Klan people outside of the theater in full regalia – wearing white outfits and hoods.

The KKK people were protesting the movie and handing out literature. I took the literature. Even though I had never seen the KKK in the flesh, I wanted to see what it had to say.

The literature said, “Africa for Africans,” “Asia for Asians” and the like. Basically, they wanted to send people of African ancestry back to Africa and Asians back to Asia as well as Jews and others to the Middle East.

This week, as we are looking back at what happened in Charlottesville, we are having debates on television and radio. Some of these debates are about keeping the statues/monuments of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee.

President Trump tweeted that we should not get rid of parts of our history. He tweeted: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

President Trump also says we can learn from history. The removal of statues is part of the current debate; however, we don’t see statues of Hitler in Germany. Germany has done an amazing job with the Holocaust. Germany has stolpersteins, also known as “stumbling stones.” Each stone has a brass plaque with the name of a person who was known to be taken away by the Nazis. People who were taken away and have stolpersteins have included Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, homosexuals, disabled people and those who dissented with the Nazi party.

As of January this year, there were 56,000 stolpersteins in Germany and other formerly Nazi-run countries. Germany also has monuments on the train tracks used to take people to the concentration camps. They have a museum in Berlin and also a collection of 80 signs that began with two laws called the Nuremberg laws in 1935. Other laws were passed after the Olympics. These include laws that said Jews were no longer allowed to keep pets, Jewish employees could be fired without notice or compensation and Aryan and non-Aryan children were not allowed to play together.

People don’t need to see a statue of Hitler to know about the Holocaust.

If communities choose to leave up the monuments of the men on horses such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, they can choose to do that, but where are the monuments to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass? There is a monument to Sojourner Truth, but it was not dedicated until 1999. There is a Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad exhibit in Maryland. The first monument to an African-American was for Frederick Douglass in 1920. These monuments and exhibits are great, but America needs more of them.

Why not use taxpayer money to develop more monuments for these people who made their mark during that same period? In fact, Robert E. Lee opposed monuments. He said, “I think it wiser, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

David Duke and Richard Spencer are talking about their culture being attacked. How about the real native culture in what is now the U.S.? What about the Native Americans? Did they not have rights that white people decided were not theirs? Why is the history of Native Americans being left out of David Duke’s and Richard Spencer’s writings about whites? America does not belong to them. They were late-comers.

I wish I had not been almost 14 years old when I encountered the Ku Klux Klan. Today I would have asked them how the African-Americans got to North America. They were sent on slave ships, as a result of being captured. In 1965, the KKK wanted to send them back so there could be a white America? What would the Klan do with the Native Americans?

The statues belong in a museum where they can be shown in context, and then other statues to real heroes of our culture should be made and erected.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].

 

 

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