Virginia Governor Ralph Northam plans to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from its pedestal and place it in storage, according to the Associated Press. The monument to the famous Confederate general was erected in 1890.
The statue is located along historic Monument Avenue and has been the site of numerous protests over the last few years. Civil rights activists have called for its removal.
“That is a symbol for so many people, black and otherwise, of a time gone by of hate and oppression and being made to feel less than,” said Del. Jay Jones, a black lawmaker from Norfolk. He said he was “overcome” by emotion when he learned the statue was to come down.
The Democratic governor will direct the statue to be moved off its massive pedestal and put into storage while his administration seeks input on a new location, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak before the governor’s announcement.
The Lee monument isn’t the only statue along Monument Avenue in danger of coming down. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says he will introduce an ordinance to remove all Confederate monuments on city land along Monument Avenue on July 1. Those statues depict Confederate Generals Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson; Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury; and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The monuments have been the focal point of civil rights activism. But remove them? One man arrived at the Lee monument yesterday with a bucket and a brush. He said he didn’t want the obscene graffiti where people could read it.
Chris Morrison, a 38-year-old Hanover County resident, brought a bucket of water, dish soap and brushes to try scrubbing the graffiti from the Lee monument Wednesday.
He said he didn’t want the profanities to remain plainly visible. Some demonstrators heckled him, but most ignored him, he said.
Morrison said he believed the monuments should remain.
“You learn from history, and they should not be removed,” he said. “If you erase history, history can repeat itself.”
After trying for a while, he couldn’t scrub the graffiti from the pedestal. Instead, he found some chalk and began blotting out what messages he could. After a few hours, he decided to leave as demonstrators began gathering for another march.
In the old Soviet Union when one of the elites fell out of favor after his death, the ruling Communist Party didn’t just alter history. They removed the offending individual’s names from monuments, history books — everywhere. They actually believed they could erase the human memory.
There has been talk of “contextualizing” the monuments by adding explanations for why it’s controversial. That seems more American to me than laughably trying to erase history by removing monuments — as if millions of southerners alive today and yet to be born will forget Lee or never hear of him or other southern generals.
Stupidity is as stupidity does.
This will be a “great victory” for the civil rights activists if the statue comes down. There will be dancing in Richmond and other southern states when the monuments to fallen soldiers who fought and fought well for a doomed and admittedly morally wrong cause are erased from history.
But what will they be celebrating? Perhaps we should examine what we’re losing as well as what we’re gaining by scrubbing the past. It may make people temporarily feel good that monuments to these white icons have been removed. But as priceless reminders of the past, destroying history carries its own cost. It may not be this generation that pays the price for this pathetic effort to forget. But as efforts to scrub all mentions, all references to the southern cause 160 years ago continue in schools and small towns across the South, succeeding generations will still be asking questions.
And no one will know how to answer them.