Confederate Statues Return to Public View in Charlottesville

Bree Newsome – pictured above — knows the power of a symbol. That’s why she climbed a flagpole at the South Carolina State House to tear down a Confederate flag. It’s why activists across the U.S. have pushed for the removal of Confederate monuments from public display.

And it’s why a court decision forcing the city of Charlottesville to uncover its Confederate monuments is such a blow. After months spent mostly under wraps, these statues are back on display to remind us all of a protracted and bloody battle.

After a “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville led to dangerous clashes that included the death of activist Heather Heyer, the city opted to cover statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson — though it didn’t specify how long it would leave the statues under shrouds.

Why not remove them entirely? Because in Virginia, war memorials cannot be moved or altered, according to state law.

Some argue that the statues are not war memorials and therefore shouldn’t be subject to the law, while others — obsessed with the definitively lost cause of the Confederacy — insist that they are. Monument supporters may have prevailed for now with their argument that obscuring the monuments was a form of interference, but the debate is far from over. Litigation over the final fate of the statues may continue well into 2019.

Virginia isn’t the only state with laws in place designed to make it difficult to remove or change war memorials. North Carolina is another example — and last year, a group of protesters actually pulled down a statue on their own to force the issue. Police stood by, claiming that the statue was on county property, so they were unable to interfere.

With growing numbers of people in the United States – including Robert E. Lee’s own descendent – speaking out against the veneration of the Confederacy, the continued presence of these monuments is an increasingly bad look. Some cities, like Charlottesville, may have an interest in relocating the statues to a museum where they can be viewed in context, but they’re hampered by the law — whether in the form of a broad legal interpretation of what a “war memorial” is or by legislation that specifically addresses Confederate monuments.

One way to tackle this problem is, of course, to push for changes to the law, though this can take time. It also requires action at the local level to push officials to remove statues once legal. Other protesters prefer not to wait, taking matters into their own hands to remove emblems of the Confederacy from public view.

As the movement to remove such monuments from view continues, one thing is important to remember: Hiding Confederate statues away shouldn’t be used as an excuse to also hide from history. While removing palpable emblems of white supremacist history from public parks is a net good, it must be paired with deeper conversations in school and beyond about the racist history of the United States. Our past has influenced our present, and it will disrupt our future unless we can break the cycle.

Photo credit: Grant Baldwin

81 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 months ago

Never should have been covered in the first place. We should be proud of our heritage.

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

SEND
Lisa b
Lisa b3 months ago

If you don't like the law, change it, Charlottesville! You have the power, you have the numbers. Get rid of the symbols of hate.

SEND
Karen S
Karen Swenson3 months ago

@Liliana Garcia---I apologize---I did misunderstand your post. I take everything I said about your post back--so sorry!

SEND
Just Human
Just H3 months ago

Remove the piece by piece in the dead of night.

SEND
Liliana G
Liliana Garcia3 months ago

Karen S: I think you misunderstood my post. Another poster seemed to be stating that the contradictions of the North and the Unionists and African American individuals who had met or seemed to relate to Confederates were reasons to have the statues in place. I was arguing the opposite that is that having those events do not justify having these statues in public places!

SEND
Leo Custer
Leo Custer3 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND