John Oliver took a roundabout way to set up the main story on Last Week Tonight, taking a detour to discuss his disgraced childhood hero Jimmy Savile. Savile was a sweatsuit-clad British broadcasting legend, host of the Top of the Pops, and he raised loads of money for charity. Then it was discovered that he was a sexual predator and the country took every monument to him down, including his own gravestone. That lead Oliver to his show’s main topic — the Confederacy or as he calls it, “America’s tracksuit sex offender.”
The news has been filled with stories of Southern cities making the somewhat controversial decision to take down some of the Confederate statues, flags, and monuments. There are some 1,500 memorials to the Confederacy in the States, including U.S. military bases, which Oliver noted was very strange considering that Confederate soldiers killed U.S. soldiers. “That’s like finding out Nancy Kerrigan named her child Tonya Harding,” says Oliver. “Why would you do that?”
To put the controversy in historical context, Oliver took viewers on a tour of history of the Civil War. The Confederacy was fought for the preservation of slavery, which Oliver notes is not his opinion, but fact, with a litany of historical documents to back up the claim. “If the Confederacy was not about slavery, somebody should really go back in time and tell the f—ing Confederacy that,” says Oliver, however polls show that only 38% of Americans think the Civil War was mainly about slavery.
Denying the truth of the Civil War, denies the often painful history of those who lived it. Oliver, though, understands that people might want to distance themselves from their families’ racist past. “None of us [are responsible for what our ancestors did],” says Oliver. “I have to believe that, because I am English and I would like to go to an Indian restaurant again at some point in my life.”
Additionally, while some argue that taking down monuments is an affront to history, many of the Confederate monuments were erected decades after the Civil War. Many of the statues were erected during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, including one 1998 statue of Confederate leader Nathan Bedford Forrest that “looks like a nickel did cocaine,” according to Oliver.
If states do decide to take down Confederate monuments, Oliver has a few ideas for replacements like Robert Smalls, Bessie Coleman — the first African American female pilot, or, for Florida, an alligator giving everyone the finger. As for South Carolina, Oliver suggests they bring in the actual Stephen Colbert. The comedian volunteered to stand in Charleston and share facts about his home state, like the fact that it’s the site of the first public library.