Fluvanna residents weigh in on monuments

By Page H. Gifford

In grand, military splendor, General Robert E. Lee sits on his bronze horse in Richmond, bearing a regal attitude fitting a once-revered general and a symbol of Confederate glory. Now the Lee statue is covered in graffiti. Now he stands as a societal statement on race relations in America.

 Samuel Bankf, a 17-year-old African American college student, took a photo of the defaced statue.

“I understand why they are protesting and I respect it but I can’t support it,” he said, referring to the defacement. Many other African-Americans  agree with Bankf’s assessment that these relics of history are oppressive symbols but this is not the way to approach the issue by tearing the monuments down, breaking them into rubble while hoping to erase the past.

Fluvanna Board Supervisor, Mozelle Booker feels that with all the chaos surrounding the monuments, this will open the door for meaningful discussion. She believes that any memorial like the Emancipation Memorial in Palmyra is less about the heroic deeds of any one person but represents all who have served or given their lives.

“We have an opportunity to tell the story, to have a better understanding,” she said. She doesn’t deny the long-standing influence of the Civil War but believes the conversation is long overdue and that history is an integral part of the discussion.

Confederate statues are not the only ones under attack, so are presidents like Washington and Jefferson because they were slave-holders. The question is whether their accomplishments can overshadow their personal history. Bankf looks at it from another angle.

“They were men of their time, they didn’t know any differently.”  Many think that putting mortals on pedestals is a thing of the past. Perhaps their words and deeds should be enough of a memorial.

The monument issue has been around for the last three years and as Booker points out it is time the story is told. The statues are the conduits for historical perspective. One statue that is under scrutiny and discussion at present is  Thomas Ball’s Emancipation Memorial sculpture, which portrays an enslaved man at the feet of Abraham Lincoln. This statue was paid for by freedmen and dedicated in 1876 with an oration by Frederick Douglas. Douglas’ comments were unvarnished and striking. Though somewhat critical of Lincoln, calling him “The white man’s president,” he also praises Lincoln for his bold strategy in abolishing slavery.

Douglas made this speech 100 years after Jefferson wrote the following in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him …” The Southern colonies questioned Jefferson on this statement and whether he was referring to them or their black slaves. Once the South realized that Jefferson was talking about slavery, they walked out, threatening the unanimity needed to approve the Declaration of Independence. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were already facing difficulties with loyalists from Pennsylvania and with the South walking out, jeopardizing America’s freedom, the clause had to go.

There is no end to the meaning these statues have for those who see them. Depictions of a sculpture featuring Sacajawea in Charlottesville is also coming under fire with some claim Sacajawea  is cowering behind Lewis  and Clark. Other than Lady Liberty there are 400 statues of women throughout the U.S., two of them honoring women of the Revolutionary War, Sybil Ludington and Molly Pitcher. New York City will be adding its first female statue to Central Park’s hodge-podge of whimsical and historical statuary with Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, realistically depicted in a round table of discussion.

While protesters take down statues, historians contemplate how we come to terms with our past. There are many schools of thought. Regarding the Emancipation Memorial, members of the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to remove Boston’s copy of the statue. But others suggest a more modern approach to bridging the gap between the past and present through creating a symbolic sculpture and setting it next to the Emancipation Memorial in a juxtaposition of ideas.

Other ideas have been emerging including a monument park, dedicated to these monuments and their history. Many have suggested a monument museum, which would be a likely place to admire the artist’s skill but also to discuss and learn more about the reason for their existence. Some have even suggested fountains, memorial gardens, or statues commemorating certain events or commemoration of people or industry that had once been  the life-blood of towns

“This is such a delicate issue, especially here in the South. If we consider that monuments are erected to celebrate a person or event that is notable, worthy of remembering and that inspires pride and patriotism, then the monument should serve to unite us behind our shared values,” said Sandra Uribe. “Many of these monuments serve only to highlight our divisions and remind us of those moments in our history when we were most selfish and cruel to one another. Instead of emphasizing our strengths, they remind us of our moral lapses. If we are to move forward together, they must be removed. Their removal will serve as a physical statement of our intentions.”

Some have suggested adding plaques, clarifying the historical context. Uribe believes that as long as the monuments and statues stand, they will continue to inspire division.

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