Should the SCV and Richmond Partner to Improve Oakwood?

oakwood-george-f-gilbert-csaI support the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s request to partner with the city of Richmond to improve the grounds at historic Oakwood Cemetery.  Such a project would work to improve a public space and bring attention to an aspect of the city’s rich history.  The plan is to preserve the Soldier’s Monument replace deteriorated grave markers with upright headstones.  Actually, the SCV has been pushing for just such a partnership for a number of years, but has been met with resistance from various officials.  It’s not difficult to imagine why and even the SCV seems to understand it, though I have to wonder whether they really appreciate the nature of these concerns or are even willing to take ownership of their role in shaping recent perceptions of the organization as well as the history of the Confederacy.

While I support the organization’s efforts I do have a few concerns.  First, I imagine that the cost-effectiveness of such a venture will have to be demonstrated.  If the city’s hesitation is a reflection of the ambivalence of the local population than they will need to show that this will not place a heavy burden on the taxpayers.  After all, it’s their money and if they do not want it to go to such a project than that’s the end of it.  My bigger concern, however, is with the marking of graves.  The SCV has shown utter incompetency when marking soldier graves in the past, especially the marking of so-called black Confederates.  I would hope that some type of oversight will be exercised by the city to ensure that those buried are not used as propaganda in the SCV’s ongoing campaign to beautify its image.  One must wonder how many black Confederates are buried in Oakwood.

Other than that this seems to be a worthwhile project that will benefit the city and state.

15 comments… add one

  • Peter Apr 13, 2009

    One might also mention that city leaders in Richmond would take lots of political fire for working with the SCV. The majority of Richmond’s population is African American, and one can understand why (rightly or wrongly) they perceive the SCV as a harmful, racist organization. It was not so long ago that the fringe elements came out in force to oppose the Arthur Ashe Monument. I think the idea of working with the SCV, then, is a hard sell to the electorate in Richmond.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 13, 2009

    Peter,

    That is exactly my point when I suggested that the SCV must take responsibility for the resistance that some public officials may exhibit. The controversy surrounding the Arthur Ashe monument is still recent history. Given the racial profile of the city it should come as no surprise as to why they are still meeting with resistance.

  • Richard Apr 13, 2009

    I have been to alot of cemeteries in the past two years. The last one was Bellevue in Wilmington. There must have been 400 new tombstones for Confederate Soldiers in this graveyard. Someone did alot of hard work. This is not the first time I have seen this and there must a general movement going on to document the Confederate dead. People at the grassroots level quitely honoring their dead. I dont think the SCV should not have control of this area because they will start erecting monuments that go outside the scope of a burial, the confederate section in the Goldsboro City cemetery comes to mind, where modern day comments have been put in stone.
    http://www.rrphillips.com/Confederate_Memorials/web/Wayne_County_NC/pages/Goldboro_NC8.htm
    I see no problem in allowing new headstones to be put up. It should be a non issue if the city is not paying for it . There is something perverse in not allowing someone to put up headstones for their ancestors.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 13, 2009

      Richard,

      Thanks for sharing the link to the Wayne County Monument. It really helps to define their involvement in and role in improving Oakwood Cemetery – a public site. I have no problem whatsoever with the placement of new headstones, but the SCV must not be seen as having a monopoly on the commemoration of the dead. It seems to me that the placement of a new monument, such as the one you linked to, must be the result of a commission of some sort that reflects the interests of the community.

  • Jeffry Burden Apr 13, 2009

    The Wayne County monument illustrates one of my pet peeves: a person or group willing to spend months or years of effort, and thousands of dollars, to erect a (not unattractive) monument, but apparently not willing to spend five minutes having someone with a decent command of English review the copy.

    “…state’s rights…”

    “…soldiers that remain unknown…”

    That’s not even counting the awkward prose. The sad thing is, all the mistakes and awkwardness are literally written in stone for future generations to scratch their heads at. (Yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition).

    Memo to the Golsboro Rifles: it’s not that difficult, people.

  • Robert Moore Apr 14, 2009

    Do we need to say anything about the fact that the First National on the Wayne County monument has only seven stars and, therefore, North Carolina is not actually represented?

  • Jim Apr 14, 2009

    It’s amazing that the first “national” cemetery in Gettysburg didn’t include Confederate graves, yet in the Confederate capital the graves of those defending said capital may not be honorably maintained. This shouldn’t be about what the racial mix of the population is or what the majority imposes on the minority, it’s about proper commemoration.

    After a tempestuous Wilder, at least Jones is beginning to come around. And speaking of radical fringe elements, I found this man http://users.erols.com/va-udc/statue-attack.html

  • Peter Apr 14, 2009

    Jim,

    Sa’ad El-Amin was so much of a radical fringe element that somehow he kept getting re-elected, at least until he landed in the Federal pen.

    And what exactly is “proper commemoration?” I am sure that voters in Richmond may be concerned that the SCV’s definition of “honorable” and “proper commemoration” might be radically different from their notions of what that means.

  • Jim Apr 15, 2009

    Peter, I’m sure support for the maintenance, access, and any other form of Confederate remembrance of the cemetery is split down racial lines. I see El-Amin and others unnecessarily fanning the flames of racial division. But regardless of who lives in Richmond and in what proportions, these cemeteries ought to be properly maintained, and if descendants and/or planning officials, etc. wish to tastefully and accurately enhance the cemetery with better headstones, etc. then no one should stand in the way. And I do believe that the city/state has a commitment to maintain a minimum amount of funding for maintenance that would prevent the decay of both the cemetery and the monuments.

    Call me controversial, but I also think it incongruous to put a champion tennis star among an area of exclusive CW era monuments. This opinion has nothing to do with race and Ashe deserves equal prominence to any other, but it just seems out of place to me. Does anyone else see it this way? Of course, what’s done is done.

  • Bob Pollock Apr 15, 2009

    Jim,

    I wouldn’t be so quick to assume “support for the maintenance, access, and any other form of Confederate remembrance of the cemetery is split down racial lines.” I visited Richmond a few years ago. I toured the “Confederate White House, ” visited the Museum of the Confederacy, and Monument Avenue. As a tourist I was fascinated by the history of it all. And, I agree with you that the Ashe monument seems out of place, though perhaps that is because there are all those monuments to Confederates and only one monument to another famous Virginian. But, and here is the big “but,” – I’m not black and I don’t live in Richmond. I have to agree with Kevin’s point that commemoration can often be modern day propaganda, and that is the rub. Who will decide what is “tasteful and accurate”?

  • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009

    Bob,

    I agree that the Ashe monument seems out of place, but I wonder if that has more to do with the monument itself rather than the location. You are right in pointing out that these issues cannot be divided along racial lines. Once again, the issue is much more complex, which is clearly something that not everyone can handle when there is something personal at stake.

  • Jim Apr 15, 2009

    Bob, the Lee monument is maintained by the state of VA, and the others were put there by the city. Who wants a city in disrepair? Therefore, the monuments and cemetery should be maintained the same way the roads and the sidewalks, etc. are maintained. Some would let infrastructure crumble before they paid, but Richmond should take care of it as they always have without this becoming a racial/political grandstand. Really, what’s the alternative?

  • Peter Apr 15, 2009

    Well, I think the easy solution to this problem would be for the SCV to agree to maintain the and groom the gravesites and maintain the dignity of the Confederate veterans. They might defuse tensions by pledging not to hold ceremonies with constumed folks running about or brandishing Confederate flags (of any variety). Confederate symbols and slogans could be permitted on headstones to mark the graves, to properly note and commemorate the service of the men buried under them.

  • Jim Apr 16, 2009

    I like some of Peter’s suggestions except for the parts infringing upon freedom of expression. Perhaps tensions might be defused among Native Americans, as one example, if we no longer flew the Stars and Stripes. And of course, living history parks all across the country give an enriched context and environment when they are in period costume. How this differs from applying the same standards to Confederate history is a question for those who argue for political correctness.

  • Peter Apr 16, 2009

    Jim,
    You misinterpret my comments. The SCV wants something that Richmond is not currently granting them; conceding to avoid the things that usually cause a negative spectacle within Richmond might be a way to demonstrate to the City that they are not crazed racists. So it may be an issue of “political correctness,” but one I think that speaks to the situation at hand. If the SCV is concerned about unmarked graves, overgrown plots, and the like, then making such an offer would allow them to honor their ancestors. I do not know if they have made such an offer, but to me “proper commemoration” is their pc term for “Lost Cause pageantry.”

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