In his carefully reasoned and well-expressed letter of October 4 (“Don’t purge history”), John B. Hagney stated, “Historical memory is predicated on tangible reminders of our past, even if reprehensible.” In the fullness of time, the significance of tangible reminders may change. Here are two examples, one rather modern, and one ancient.
Eighty years ago, a new bridge in Selma, Alabama, was dedicated to honor a man who personified almost everything that was reprehensible about the South. Today, hardly anyone knows who Edmund Pettus was, but millions know that bridge as a symbol of the civil rights movement and a landmark along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
Nearly 2,000 years ago the mighty Roman Empire erected the triumphal Arch of Titus, celebrating victory over the Jews in Judea, especially the sacking of Jerusalem and looting the Jews’ Temple. Today, the restored arch protrudes above other archeological ruins of that mighty empire that is no longer. Jerusalem and the Jews thrive.
Over time, tangible reminders help us see for ourselves the arc of the moral universe.