There is no one, simple answer to how to handle the complex post-war history of the South. Anyone who suggests one is ignoring reality.
How does one evaluate a statue of Robert E. Lee? He certainly wasn’t an agitator for secession, so you cannot tar him with being a gung-ho rebel agitating for the continuance of slavery. By all accounts he was a product of his times: a person who felt that his allegiance to the state was more important than his allegiance to the federation the state was part of. Thus, reluctantly, he resigned his commission in the US Army and took up a position in the army of the CSA, the new federation into which his state of Virginia had associated itself. Almost everyone agrees he was a very competent general, who displayed noble traits over-and-above what was required of him as a commander in that army. It is certainly understandable why someone might want to commemorate his leadership.
On the other hand, he rebelled against his lawful government, took up arms in that rebellion (thereby committing treason), and did his best to preclude that lawful government from putting down the rebellion. In most countries, having lost said rebellion, he would have been tried and shot. He retained his life solely because our country decided in the years after the war that it was more important to stitch the country back together than it was to take revenge upon those who had fomented a very costly war. His leadership in the treasonous cause should not be revered, but rather should be the subject of scorn whenever possible.
This is but one example of the extremely complex issues that dealing with the Civil War presents to us. Even if we remove the issue of how “blacks” feel about things, that war was a rebellion by treasonous conspirators against their lawfully established government. How is that a noble cause? Yet we squirm at that portrayal, because we understand that the exact same charges can be leveled against our “Founding Fathers”. The only difference between them is that our FFs won their rebellion; the South lost its rebellion. Are we then just hypocrites who’s judgment depends upon what, exactly, was being fought for? Is rebellion ok when it is raised in the name of “liberty”, but treasonous when it is raised in the name of “liberty to do x”, where x is something we don’t like?
And what do we do with the thousands and thousands of small town/city memorial posts/monuments in the South for their Civil War dead? By what right do we strip a town of its collective mourning and remembrance of its brave sons who fought on behalf of what turned out to be treasonous leaders? Almost every town in the South has such a monument. Yeah, Gen. Forrest may not be worthy of a monument, but is Johnny Rebel from Bennettsville, SC undeserving of being remembered for his brave sacrifice?
The reality of the South is that no proper method of dealing with such statues and monuments can be implemented until the South comes to terms with the Civil War, and what that war really meant. For too long, the South has clung to the notion of the “Lost Cause”, a noble fight against what was viewed as tyranny, a fight that was doomed to failure not because the cause was wrong, but because the northern aggressors would not let them alone. We foster this notion by lionizing the actions of the generals, who undeniably fought bravely, and with a lot of success. We glorify Johnny Rebel, who is viewed as having a tenacity on the battlefield unmatched by Union forces. We romanticize the ante-bellum period, with movies like Gone With the Wind. And, as a result, the South has yet to come to terms with the fact that the leaders of the South led their people into treasonous rebellion against the United States, which was wrong.
But it’s getting better, slowly but surely. For the Centennial of the War, there was a lot of historical pomp about the Lost Cause. Read the official history written by Bruce Catton (in three volumes) for an example of how even in the North, the Civil War was still romanticized. But earlier this decade, during the Sesquicentennial, there was almost no mention of the War. I believe that is because the South has become embarrassed, finally, about what it did. They don’t want to talk about it (most of them), because they realize it was wrong, but they cannot, yet, admit that their own ancestors did wrong. Another fifty years might finally see them accepting that, and acting accordingly.
Meanwhile, monuments and statues should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Some should go. Some should be moved. Some should be explained. All should be taught about. When those who would criticize the people of the South can realize that these people were not “bad” people, even though they made choices that were not good, then the animosity over what to do with the statutes and monuments can finally fade away.