What if we move Robert E. Lee's statue to Court Square, right next to Stonewall Jackson's, bringing him down from his pedestal to enhance the contrast — and then create a monument to local African American achievement and contributions in the former Lee Park? Then if we held periodic dramatic re-enactments of a slave auction in Court Square, we'd have a whole succinct history of the cause and the trajectory of the Civil War.
A new plaque for the statues might read:
"The two statues beside the courthouse bring us forward from the slave auction toward the contemporary state of race relations. Both Lee and Jackson fought to preserve the social and economic system that the South had built around slavery. We can see in Jackson's kinetic élan his desperate attempt to defend a way of life that he associated with the dearest values of family and home. That those values required for their maintenance the whip and the ball-and-chain prompts us to ask what cruelty survives from that legacy today.
“The other statue portrays Lee on his way to Appomattox, his face downcast though his back is erect, thinking about and grieving the immense burden on the future of the war's legacy. That burden is recounted in plaques and story benches located on the square around you. Our community's attempts to bear the burden, and to lift it from our collective shoulders, are recounted on Market Street Park two blocks west.”
What if we were able to celebrate substantive changes instead of symbolic ones? In our current us-against-them stew, no one is interested in releasing the fierce grip of symbolism in our thinking and our being together.
Unquestionably, the statues symbolize a cruel racist past and, for some, an all-white future. But is it more important to be angry at what they represented and at the white-supremacist ideology they so easily fit into — brought to us two years ago by self-serving outsiders — than it is to remedy present injustice among us?
If we remove the statues, do we remove the racism? More importantly, do we make equity among us more far-reaching?
What defeats symbolism is not more symbolism. It is responsibility for each other.