John Avlon is a senior political analyst at CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)More than 155 years after the end of the Civil War, America is finally having a more complete moral reckoning with the Confederacy.

The issue is the legacy of white supremacy.Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens spelled it out in a March 1861 speech: “Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” This is a matter of hate, not heritage.And today we’re seeing Confederate statutes toppled across the country and Confederate flags banned from NASCAR races. Leading military figures say the time has come to rename military bases that were named after Confederate generals — even as President Donald Trump makes plain his opposition. Read MoreBut as the nation confronts the ugliest aspects of its history, we need to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between statues of American presidents like Abraham Lincoln and statues of American traitors like Confederate President Jefferson Davis. With these racist markers in place, there can be no peaceWith these racist markers in place, there can be no peaceWith these racist markers in place, there can be no peaceProgress is being made. In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg announced Wednesday that the city would take down the statue of slavery and secession defender John C. Calhoun and put it in a museum. This is overdue and all to the good. Some of these statues were put up by the sons and daughters of Confederates, perhaps trying to find a measure of dignity in defeat while also aiming to literally recast history. Others were erected in the years after the Supreme Court ordered desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to send a message of Southern defiance. In the end, they all were statues honoring people who committed armed treason against the United States to perpetuate slavery. Today we are in the midst of an overdue reckoning, but as it advances there is always the question of how far to go. As conservative columnist George Will once said, “the four most important words in politics are: up to a point.” This past Sunday, a statue of Thomas Jefferson was toppled in Portland, Oregon.Apparently in response, a three-year-old debate I had on CNN with my fellow commentator Angela Rye was picked up by conservative outlets and went pinging around the internet again. In it, she argued that the Founding Fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, should be taken down because they owned slaves. Good people can disagree, but I felt that this position would be used to fuel arguments by the right to resist taking down Confederate statues. They’re doing just that. In recent days, a statue of Abraham Lincoln in London was defaced by protesters (along with a statue of Winston Churchill). In New York City this week, the City Council speaker called for taking down a statue of Thomas Jefferson. In Oregon, a statue of George Washington was toppled and set afire, tagged with graffiti that called him a “genocidal colonialist.”NASCAR does the right thing on Confederate flag banNASCAR does the right thing on Confederate flag banNASCAR does the right thing on Confederate flag banPeople have defaced and petitioned for removal of statues of Christopher Columbus erected by Italian immigrants as a source of cultural pride — though some mayors, like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot — have resisted the calls to topple Columbus.But in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced support for taking down a statue of Lincoln — the original of which was paid for by money raised by freed slaves and dedicated by Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC. This week we celebrate Juneteenth — June 19. It marks the day when the last slaves were freed in Texas, completing the work of the Emancipation Proclamation before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. (Contrary to Trump’s claims, the President does not deserve credit for making the celebration “very famous.”)But if, in this moment of long-awaited change, we can’t distinguish between a statue of Abraham Lincoln and one of Jefferson Davis while debating the legacy of slavery, then we’re in real trouble.Many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Some fitfully denounced slavery, as Jefferson did in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (the paragraph was dropped because of opposition by Southern delegates to the Continental Congress). Jefferson, of course, owned slaves and fathered several children by Sally Hemmings, the enslaved half-sister of his deceased wife. At the end of his life, he despaired that slavery would tear apart the country. Get our free weekly newsletter

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Washington made arrangements to free slaves in his will. Still other Founders, like John Adams, never owned slaves, while Benjamin Franklin (who owned two slaves and eventually freed them) and Alexander Hamilton advocated for abolition. Washington and Jefferson, for all their flaws, tried to create and unite the nation. Jefferson Davis and his Confederate cohorts tried to destroy it to defend the evil institution of slavery. History is messy and we have an obligation to right the wrongs and provide crucial missing context to what remains. We should be building new statues to forgotten heroes of Reconstruction, pioneering African American congressmen like Robert Smalls and Hiram Revels, as well as giving black Union soldiers the prominence they have been denied. We should have more statues to Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. We should rename army bases like Fort Bragg for modern military heroes like Colin Powell, who trained there as a soldier in 1962. In this reckoning we must try to find true reconciliation. We are all imperfect people struggling to form a more perfect union but surely we can agree that there is a difference between statues of Jefferson Davis and Thomas Jefferson — let alone Abraham Lincoln and Confederate generals — in our civic spaces.

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