Vigilantes sniff out symbolic affronts but disregard the devastation they have wrought

Vigilantes sniff out symbolic affronts but disregard the devastation they have wrought
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One of the most recent targets of America’s social justice warriors is the memorial celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington that depicts President Lincoln with a slave who is rising on one knee. The memorial in Lincoln Park is part of a planned demonstration in D.C. this Fourth of July weekend.

Many of today’s self-righteous vigilantes who want to desecrate the memorial celebrating the emergence of freedom from slavery either disregard, or likely do not know, that the statue — also known as the Freedmen’s Memorial — was paid for in part by contributions from former slaves, some of whom donated the first dollars they earned in freedom. 

The unveiling of the monument on April 14, 1876 — the 11th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination — was attended by 25,000 people, many of them African Americans. A huge parade involving nearly every Black organization in the city preceded the dedication of the monument. The procession included cornet bands, marching drum corps, youth clubs in colorful uniforms, and fraternal orders. 


Horse-drawn carriages transported John Mercer Langston, master of ceremonies and the Howard University law school dean, and the orator of the day, Frederick Douglass, who was a resident of the neighborhood. Although Douglass noted the shortcomings and faults of both Lincoln and the nation, he joined in celebrating this significant step toward freedom and justice. 

The sculptor, Thomas Ball, reportedly responded to requests to depict the freed slave with his chains broken and his head not bowed in submission but uplifted, with an expression of hope on his face. The figure was modeled after the image of a former slave at the suggestion of the man who had written his biography.

Those who focus today on finding statues, monuments and other symbolism that could possibly cause offense would be better to look squarely at the danger and damage caused by their own message. Their mantra is that a legacy of slavery and discrimination negates any sense of agency that Blacks today might have, and that Black Americans’ destiny lies in what white America does or fails to do.  

This depiction of  Black Americans as impotent victims of the legacy of slavery is conveyed with demands that the bar be lowered for Blacks in every arena — from academic achievement to job performance to violent behavior. The ideals of personal responsibility and self-determination appear to have been jettisoned.  

This has resulted in conditions in which any title, grade or accomplishment of a Black man or woman is shadowed with an asterisk. Those who have invested their talents and efforts to achieve and succeed never can be fully confident that their accomplishments are owed to their own merit, and their positions may be viewed as the result of some special retributive indulgence.  


Even more dangerous is the dooming and potentially lethal message that social justice warriors’ message sends to young people who believe that the issue of racism makes them unaccountable for their behavior. In schools throughout the nation, students who are assured they will not be suspended, regardless of their behavior, have considered themselves as “untouchable.” When this attitude is transferred to the streets, where protests continue in many cities, they and their targets tragically may experience the consequence of their violent behavior. 

The real-world damage at the hands of the self-righteous elite who purport to represent the Black community is far more devastating than the symbolism they perceive ever could be. 

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.