One of the things I enjoyed while living in Virginia was the opportunity to explore public spaces related to the Civil War. Whenever I traveled to a new city or town one of the first things I did was look for that Confederate soldier monument at a downtown intersection or on the courthouse grounds. There is something comforting about finding that monument – a present reminder of a distant past. Not so distant that we are transported back to the Civil War, but to that period between 1880 and 1920 as white southerners struggled to make sense of a past in the face of modernity. Those of us who approach these spaces are forced to confront our individual and collective need to remember as well as the consequences of forgetting.
As many of you know the Confederate monument in Reidsville, North Carolina is in the news. This past May the monument was damaged by a driver, which led to its removal. It should come as no surprise that the question of where to go from here has caused some controversy. Residents have to deal with competing ideas of what the monument means as well as questions of where the funds will come from to repair it and whether it ultimately belongs in its previous location. Of course, it is up to the residents of Reidsville to make this decision.
That said, I hope the monument finds its way back to its old pedestal. Communities need reminders of how they have chosen to remember their past. They have the potential to bring people together to celebrate, contemplate, and even protest. Often times they fuel a push to dedicate new monuments to those aspects of the past that for whatever reason have been ignored. To me, that is the sign of a healthy and vibrant community.