Serious issue of statues still unresolved

As the second anniversary of the Unite the Right rally bears down on us, I cannot help but worry that, as far as the city is concerned, the memories of violence and tragedy have all but been disregarded as Charlottesville strives to move on.

The monuments at the center of the conflict, those of Robert Edward Lee and Thomas Jonathan Jackson, have remained in legal limbo nearly two years later as a lawsuit burns on in the Charlottesville Circuit Court. The question remains: What should be done to replace these grim reminders of the deep inequity in Charlottesville?

This year, in my final semester as an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame, I had the opportunity to tackle this question through my thesis design project: a proposal for a history museum to confront the persisting pattern of segregation and inequity in the city, immortalized in the statues, and to bring the light the stories and voices of those who have been historically repressed.

The statues originally were commissioned by Paul McIntire in the spirit of the “City Beautiful” movement, which sought to enhance city living through urban planning and architectural interventions. However, like similar statues erected in the South in the early 20th century, they marked the middle-class and largely white part of town, romanticized Confederate leaders, and became symbols of oppression to minority and low-income residents.

The latter are not the ideals that architecture should embody. The way we build our buildings and our city should unite people, not create divides between individuals, nor should it foster hate and violence. It is the responsibility of those contributing to the design of the built environment to create enduring, timeless spaces that inspire equity and community in all who experience them.

Consider, then, how a dedicated history center could honor the victims of segregation and bigotry, whether from decades past or from far too recently. Consider, also, how such a museum could become an enduring reminder of the justice we must seek in order to put to rest the injustice of the past and allow our city to heal.

Christian Cullinan

Fluvanna County

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