There is a difference between a monument recognizing ordinary individuals who served and died in the Civil War and Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues. Proportion, design, intention and placement are symbolic; care should be taken.
I support Senate Bill 183, which authorizes Virginia localities to have control over monuments and remove them. This bill offers an opportunity to honor Confederate veterans in a manner respectful of all citizens.
In a Jan. 31 letter to the editor, the author writes, “Stripping these war memorials from the public square will not improve race relations or the lives of anyone in the community” (“‘War memorials are sacred ground’,” The Daily Progress).
Those who are white cannot feel the effects of the looming presence of Lee and Jackson on generations of people of color. Yet the letter writer dismisses such concerns. The generals have caused discomfort for many of us; we are thankful that a young woman suggested their removal from prominent public spaces.
The author quoted the attorney general of Virginia as saying that Virginia policy extends “certain protections” to “our veterans” in a 2015 opinion. In 2017, that same AG, Mark Herring, issued an advisory opinion that, in the words of a news story, suggests “cities can remove or relocate Confederate monuments as long as there are no individual laws or restrictions governing those particular monuments.” In October 2019, Herring ruled that Norfolk could relocate a “Johnny Reb” statue.
Labeling monuments on public lands as “sacrosanct,” as did the previous letter writer, is problematic. Such language comes from the mouths of the dominant culture; Six Grandfathers was sacred land for the Sioux until it was pronounced Mount Rushmore, wherein now reside the faces of four white presidents. Ask a black Virginian how many “sacrosanct” cemeteries, churches and lives are lost to discrimination, hate and apathy.
The events of history are static; how we interpret history is not. It takes guts to reflect on the past as truthfully as we can, from the perspectives of all those caught in its tide.
Perhaps more sacred than these monuments are the young people of Charlottesville today who may serve the U.S. of tomorrow. Why not give them the most inclusive, loving community experience that we possibly can?
Caroline B. Kipps