Danny Cardwell's picture

    Charlottesville, Salem and Historic Monuments

    In the winter of 1692, Massachusetts Bay Colony was rocked by allegations of witchcraft. In January, a group of young girls from Salem Village claimed to be possessed by the devil. The girls were taken to a doctor who determined they had been “bewitched”. The girls aged 9 and 11 accused a local slave named Tituba of witchcraft.



    In early February Tituba was arrested and admitted to being a witch. During her confession, she accused other women in the village of being witches. By May of 1692 governor William Phips established a special court to handle the trials of those accused of witchcraft. On June 2nd, Bridget Bishop was convicted of witchcraft and hanged eight days later. This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials.


    If you travel to Salem, Massachusetts you can visit the Victim’s Memorial, take tours of the jail and visit several preserved structures in Danvers and Salem. What you won’t find are monuments built to honor the brave men who had to hang and torture the women and men accused of witchcraft. This bothers me. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. They did what they had to do to protect their way of life. They are part of history. Where are their statues?


    This is a ridiculous argument, but not really. The officers of the court who arrested, questioned, prosecuted and executed the accused were acting under the legal authority granted to them by their government. They are no better or worse than the Confederate soldiers who participated in the attempted overthrow the United States government.



    Last Friday torch bearing mobs of white supremacists marched on Charlottesville. The pictures and videos taken that night are a visual reminders of the mob mentality, hysteria and hatred that fueled the atrocities committed in Salem, Massachusetts. Angry mobs of white men assembled at night with torches has historically ended in castrations, hangings and people burning at the stake. This assembly ended the next day when one member of the lynch mob drove his car into a crowd of people injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.     


    The tragic events in Charlottesville were 325 years and 573 miles removed from the Witch Trials in Salem, yet both American horror stories shared​ roots in hatred and hysteria. The people behind the Salem Witch Trials and the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville weaponized the fear and anxiety of their allies. Once a mob is formed and inhibitions are lowered it becomes that much easier to kill those dehumanized by their ideology.  


    What happened in Charlottesville was not about monuments. The removal of Confederate Monuments is to racism what not having dinner on the table is to domestic violence. Issues related to race often remain hidden under the surface; sometimes they just need a spark to remind us how tenuous our truces are. Too often we confuse the absence of large racial outbursts as signs of transcending our racial past, but this is an illusion. We live in a country that continues to struggle with the legacy of white supremacy.


    Dr. Eddie Glaude writes and talks extensively about the "Value Gap" in America. The value gap is the belief that white people matter more than the rest of us. His thesis is a retelling of American history and an examination into how this belief continues to shape our society. What we saw in Charlottesville was another attempt by white supremacists to reshuffle the socioeconomic order of our society through fear and intimidation.


    The scapegoating of racial, religious and sexual minorities is a necessary recruitment tool for hate groups trying to grow their numbers. The images of torch wielding xenophobes and bigots are disheartening, but not nearly as disheartening as the social media posts of seemingly normal people who have tried to justify their actions. The soft bigotry at the core of some people's need to justify and sympathize with bigots is just as damaging to race relations as walking up and down American streets with Swastikas and Confederate flags supporting them. 


    We found a way to preserve​ the history of the Salem Witch Trials without canonizing the villains who committed the evil acts. 99.99% of our society can’t name one person responsible for the hangings, stoning and torture that defined that dark period of American history, yet we all know what happened. If the statues stay we should at least be honest about the terror they represented for 22% of America’s population at the time of the Civil War.


    While Trump drawing attention to the topic of local public monuments is a good educational opportunity, one should first also realize that he has zero power to do anything about them one way or another. Then realize that the bully pulpit factor has totally backfired, and the white nationalist protests even more so, as nobody wants them to be drawn to their town: statues that have been sitting there fuhever are finally being moved apace. So that they don't come there. Those that are moving Confederate statues are doing so because the white nationalist and Trump attention has finally made it easy to do so.

    Edit to add: not only that, there's been some reaction that I feel is even more important: quite a few descendants of major Confederate leaders that still have public monuments have now come out on record saying they think the statues should be moved on various ideological bases but in general because they think the culture has changed and they are no longer appropriately displayed as public monuments. These people's opinions were either kept private or unknown before.

    Oh, and don't expect arguing to stop once talk of replacements starts! It will get worse. Nothing gets people so het up as what new art on public property should be, and more so if taxpayers are paying for it.  Trees and shrubs are pretty safe!

    Thanks for an excellent post. There are no statues to courageous Nazi soldiers in Germany. Germans have a better grasp of their history. Slavery was the birth defect of the United States of America. Donald Trump wants to continue to celebrate an eil institution. People who voted for Trump and people who continue to support Trump cannot argue that they did not know that Trump was a racist. David Duke was overjoyed that Trump won.

    Edit to add:

    Trump waited to get the "facts" on Charlottesville. He had an immediate response when non-white people carried out an attack in Barcelona.


    Excellent points.

    I was going to add that if witch trials were deemed useful to get out the crackpot Republican base they would be promoted as necessary to keep us safe by Republicans at election time.

    Then I realized they already had gone there, See "comet pizza satanic rituals".

    Republicans ate up the Comet Pizza satanic rituals story on Hillary. Culminating with the armed attack on Comet Pizza by a 'white hero' from North Carolina.

    Showing how effective big lies are when combined with an ignorant, cognitively impaired, easily incited mob of angry racists, bigots and haters.

    Excellent post, Danny.

    You don't want to get me started on he Witch Trials, but I will add two things that help the analogy.

    First, none of the witch persecutors from 1692 get statues, even if something else they did would normally earn them a statue. Because participating in the witch trials is disqualifying, no matter what else you did.

    Take the lead in inoculating New England against smallpox, overcoming benighted superstition and saving countless lives? Good for you, but no statue, because you're also tainted by the witch trials.

    Write the first anti-slavery tract published in America? (Before 1700 ... way ahead of the curve.) we'd love to celebrate you, but sorry ... witch trials. We just can't bring you up.

    Some things just take you out of the monument discussion.

    Second, the witch trial judges, like the Confederate officers, had a choice. No one else made them do this. There were a number of other judges who were asked to serve in the Salem thing and outright refused. History is not an excuse in either case; other people made different choices.

    Fake history! Most of the very fine people of Salem, Mass. were not anti-witch. They were freedom fighters who wanted to protect their proud Christian heritage!

    And I think that's not funny and not fake history! Their heritage: fighting the devil. They did not see the witches as at fault, they saw them as possessed by the enemy, it was infiltration by the devil. They were trying to save the witches' souls, not their lives. And it most definitely was longstanding culture wars, too: the Catholic papists were agents of the devil as well. They were trying to protect their little utopia in the new world so it could flower and grow but the devil was trying to stop them.

    p.s. Actually on second thought, I should do the nuance thing that I have purported to support here in the past. wink I vaguely recall reading recent scholarship where the scholar studied all the property deeds and plots related to the main characters of the whole sad story and lo and behold, he found evidence that some of the more, er, rabidly prosecutorial might have had, er, capital gain influences driving their passion agin witches.In which case, my main point still stands: the devil at work there, too! I think if the majority had understood that, those guys would have been boiled, too. cheeky

    (My excuse: I'm a big believer in the idea that the Enlightenment really was a major change in the way humans think. Nothing I've studied since my 20's has changed my mind about that. It was an incredible thing, that came out of the printing press and grew by leaps and bounds as soon as paper publications became more available. Like Maiello has been promoting: written language, it's important!)

    Yep, and the Nazis wanted to save Germany, and Bolsheviks wanted to build a Communist utopia. There is always a sweet motive to mask the bitter taste of tyranny and hate.

    (Post printing-press, I might add.)

    The Confederacy wasnt trying to overthrow the US government.

    It was trying to secede. Two totally different things. 

    A very valid and important point. Another: they lost the war they fought to do that, signed a series of surrenders,. and verified those by thereafter electing and sending representatives to U.S. federal government as if they were once again part of the union of United States of America.

    The secession was because slavery was not going to be expanded. They wanted to leave to be free to own slaves and see the practice conducted in other states. Other slave owning states had no problem with not expanding slavery. West Virginia broke off from Virginia. 

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