Regarding Charlottesville City Council’s deliberations concerning monuments, race and public space, readers should know that I put forth a motion that supported one of the options submitted by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces.
The commission was charged with discerning how and where to tell the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race relations. With regards to the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the BRC forwarded two recommendations to Council.
The first (the “Relocate” option) called for relocating the statue to East McIntire Park. The second (the “Transform in Place” option) called for transforming the statue without removing it from Lee Park, by exposing its history as a symbol of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era and redesigning Lee Park so as to promote the values of freedom and equity.
The motion I submitted to City Council adhered to the BRC’s “Transform in Place” option and included memorials and markers about the Charlottesville slave block and the Freedman’s Bureau. In my view, this design-oriented approach would tell a more complete racial history of Lee Park and its historic context without:
» Diverting significant resources away from priorities like affordable housing, job training and preschool education;
» Destroying a registered historic landscape; or
» Denying future generations the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about the past, based on the artifacts left behind.
My motion failed, 2-3. As reported (“Council’s statues vote ends in deadlocked frustration,” The Daily Progress, Jan. 18), Councilor Kristin Szakos moved to relocate the statue. That motion also failed, 2-2 with one abstention. Lee Park remains unchanged for the time being.
Charlottesville’s legacy of racial injustice must be addressed. But as Dan Balz cautioned in The Washington Post, "The divisions have been widening. As important is the fact that passions have intensified. ... Now it is common not just to disagree but to ascribe the worst in the other side" (washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-is-right-he-didnt-create-the-countrys-divisions-but-will-he-heal-them/2017/01/19/896f4374-de56-11e6-ad42-f3375f271c9c_story.html?utm_term=.52e316c2b584).
We must buck this trend. We can choose to tear each other apart over an intolerable, untenable, ugly past or come together to forge a more equitable, sustainable, beautiful present and future. The responsibility for leadership falls upon elected officials. The responsibility for building and sustaining a more perfect union rests on us all.
Kathleen M. Galvin