The Fate of Lee-Jackson Day in Charlottesville
UPDATE: City Council has pushed their final decision to March 2. Stay tuned.
I think it is safe to say that later this evening the Charlottesville (Va) city council will vote to end the practice of recognizing Lee-Jackson Day. The vote will place Charlottesville in the same camp as Richmond, Fairfax, Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Hampton, Lynchburg and Norfolk, which no longer observe the holiday.
It would be more accurate to say that the city council will make official what is already the case in practice. As a resident of Charlottesville for eleven years before moving to Boston in 2011 I can say with confidence that very few people formally acknowledged the holiday. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any formal recognition of the holiday throughout the state beyond the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage groups. They will and should continue to honor Lee and Jackson in a way that they deem fitting.
The story will make the local newspaper tomorrow, but that will be it. Apart from a few people in and around town no one will take notice. The Virginia Flaggers may make good on their threat to raise a Confederate flag in town, but to the discerning viewer that will only highlight the inevitable retreat of Confederate symbols in public places around the Commonwealth and beyond.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the Charlottesville of 2015 is not the Charlottesville of 1914. The political and racial hierarchy that governed the city and the state throughout much of the twentieth century, and which is largely responsible for populating its physical landscapes with monuments and its calendars with holidays, survives no longer.
A balance that preserves reminders of Charlottesville’s Confederate past with the inevitable and necessary calls for new representations of the community’s collective values is possible, but it is going to take the right people on both sides to engage one another in meaningful dialog. The vote to end Lee-Jackson Day will likely be an easy one for council members to make given their constituency, but my hope is that a city like Charlottesville can have more open discussion about the future of its past.