Charlottesville, Virginia No Longer Celebrates Lee-Jackson Day

As of this evening my old home of Charlottesville, Virginia no longer celebrates Lee-Jackson Day. The city joins other communities throughout the Commonwealth that no longer publicly acknowledge this holiday.

The vote is not so much a declaration that Lee and Jackson no longer deserve the kind of reverence they once received, but a confirmation that the community crossed this line at some point in the past. Representatives of the city’s chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had every opportunity to voice their displeasure and chose not to do so. This paid city holiday will likely be rolled into one honoring all veterans. That leaves room for those who wish to single out Lee and Jackson or anyone else for that matter.

Looks like Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers attended tonight’s meeting to make a last-minute plea.

We should celebrate a city that allows people from outside the community to voice their opinion. It is unlikely that city councilors gave much thought to Hathaway and the other members of the group who attended the previous meeting. The group plans to find private property to raise one of their flags as a snub to the community. That is their right. It’s nothing more than an indication that their message has once again failed.

The only question that remains unanswered is whether cities like Charlottesville can find productive ways for members of the community to engage one another around such sensitive questions of how their collective past ought to be remembered.

62 thoughts on “Charlottesville, Virginia No Longer Celebrates Lee-Jackson Day

  1. Pat Young

    Virginians have long-since moved beyond the constant pressing of the Confederate past upon modern life. When supporters of Lee-Jackson Day refer to the mayor and city council members of a Virginia city as non-Virginians they only reinforce the perception that support for Confederate commemoration is limited to xenophobes. I used to think of the Flaggers et al as Neo-Confederates, now I realize that they are Neo-Know Nothings.

    Reply
  2. James Harrigan

    The vote is not so much a declaration that Lee and Jackson no longer deserve the kind of reverence they once received, …
    I disagree, Kevin. To me this is exactly what it means. I think I am in the majority of my fellow Cvillians in believing that these Lost Cause icons definitely do not deserve reverence or official commemoration. I hope the day is not too far off when we take the next step: re-name Lee and Jackson Parks, and remove their statues. I’d be happy to see the Confederate Soldier monument stay, but only if he is joined by a Virginia USCT soldier.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      What I am suggesting is that the city council didn’t decide something that was not already reflected in the community. That’s all. We disagree on the re-naming of the parks and the removal of the statues. Charlottesville needs to find a way to use these sites to open dialog about the city’s past and how it is remembered.

      Reply
      1. Tim Desmond

        I think there is a wide gulf between simple preservation of the past and its intentional distortion in glorifying commemorations. Renaming parks and historic landmarks might help to erase important reminders of our collective history. I don’t think that dispensing with all such memorials is necessarily the right option to pursue. On the other hand celebrating the philosophy or values of the Confederacy with pageantry and the brandishing of flags, seems entirely misguided. Perhaps on some intrinsically human level, we can empathize with the common men who fought and died on both sides of this conflict. In some cases the convictions that drove them to war might have had a certain nobility. Many probably fought for no greater reason then because they wanted to protect their native soils, or perhaps to fight alongside and so defend their friends and relatives. Surely not everyone positioned on either side of the conflict was driven purely by political ideology. I don’t feel comfortable writing off or dehumanizing almost a full half of the nation during the civil war period. That being said, I certainly disagree with any attempt to elevate prominent symbols of the Confederacy, be they men or flags. While we should not turn away from our past, we should certainly seek to distance ourselves from the errors apparent in it. Our celebrations should be in service of proclaiming our progress, and the manner in which it was fought for and won. Not in clinging rancorously and foolishly, to the ideals of an unenlightened credo.

        Reply
        1. Tim Desmond

          oops, sorry about the redundant nature of my posts…thought I lost the first one, so I re-wrote it and re-subbmited it, hence the overwhelming similarities.

          Reply
  3. Connie Chastain

    If the VaFlaggers were as unimportant as you pretend to believe, you wouldn’t blog about them, and you wouldn’t quiveringly celebrate events such as this in the war on Confederate heritage. And please note that the interpretation you’re putting on the flags going up on private property is abysmally mistaken — whether intentional or not, who knows. In any case, your interpretation is wrong.

    The war on Confederate heritage is based on a very, very bad premise, something nobody should approve of or celebrate, and that everyone will likely have reason to regret in the future.

    Oh, and did you happen to notice the cowardly way in which the city council handle this? Not admirable folks, them.

    Reply
      1. Connie Chastain

        You’re important only to the extent that you have accumulated some influence, and use it to further the culture war against a heritage not yours.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          You are certainly entitled to your opinion. It is indeed my heritage. It’s part of American history and heritage and as an American I take great interest in it. Whether you claim otherwise is irrelevant to me.

          Reply
    1. Larry Itliong

      West Florida Flagger and fervent Virginia Flagger supporter Scott Hamilton writes from Pensacola to confirm your interpretation of the flag installations: “City council along with city should shunned and flagged” (Facebook, 3/3/2015) http://on.fb.me/17R4j8I

      There’s punitive intent. Connie’s been outvoted.

      Reply
      1. Eric A. Jacobson

        Hey now….be wary Kevin. I see where the VA flaggers have made a comparison between those who don’t agree with them about “Confederate heritage” and ISIS. Two birds of a feather I guess. Yep, I’m serious.

        There was once a time that I thought Susan was different. The post I just saw proved me wrong.

        I’m guessing we will soon see some bonkers post from Connie, too…..

        Reply
    1. Bryan Cheeseboro

      Connie,
      As a descendant of slaves, I think I can certainly say Confederate heritage is my heritage. however, I think it’s safe to say the way I remember and interpret that heritage is very different than the way you do. But I’m not out for an interpretation that says “all White Confederates were evil, racist horrible people who wanted to make life- and death- miserable for poor, saintly Blacks.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve found too many people on this message board who believe that.

      I appreciate most historians who make the effort to find the truth for what it is and not just what we’d like to hear. Hope this makes sense.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Thoughtful comment, Bryan. We all have an obligation and a right to engage in these issues. No one (regardless of ancestry, place of birth or current resident) has a monopoly on this history/heritage.

        Reply
    2. Goad Gatsby

      Connie, your buddies at the Virginia Flaggers have attempted to discredit me for having Confederate ancestors. So let me get this straight, you believe that if someone does not have Confederate ancestors then they should not be speaking against “Confederate heritage” but if they do have Confederate ancestors, then they should not be speaking against “Confederate heritage.”

      Reply
    3. Pat Young

      I note that in her blog on this matter, Ms. Chastain mentions the mayor once and in that single sentence uses the word “Sikh” twice, thereby reinforcing my first comment.

      Reply
  4. Larry Itliong

    Susan Hathaway made much of a wild and woolly atmosphere, suggesting local heritage folks were too uncomfortable to show up and speak. Later, council specifically admonished Susan and her crew for disrupting the school board budget presentation with noisy talk in the front row. They slunk out right after that.

    Anyhow, council solicited input on the holiday, held a public hearing, and voted.

    Reply
      1. Larry Itliong

        Susan addressed council with the phrase, “should your backwater tyranny temporarily succeed…”

        I hope she’s writing some songs. 🙂

        Reply
  5. Conrad

    To many in Charlottesville, Lee-Jackson Day is little more than a quaint anachronistic distraction with no practical meaning and no functional or practical utility. In that respect, at least, it is very easy to sympathize with the locals who wish to abandon its observation. Indeed, over the years dating back to emancipation, Charlottesville has changed dramatically. The city has seen its demographics changed, its social customs and institutions adjusted, and its cultural norms altered. And with these profound changes have come an exponential increase in the level of violence and crime. And so these are the urgent practical matters which deserve and demand the attention of the city’s collective efforts, not the celebration of two War Heroes of a long gone era. Trying to control the crime and violence, and making Charlottesville a safe place to live should be the first priority of the City Council. They made the right decision.

    Reply
    1. James Harrigan

      And with these profound changes have come an exponential increase in the level of violence and crime. […] Trying to control the crime and violence, and making Charlottesville a safe place to live should be the first priority of the City Council.
      Not too familiar with Charlottesville, are you Conrad? It is a very safe, friendly, tolerant little city that those of us who live and work here are very fond of.

      Reply
    2. Muhammad E. Lee

      “Indeed, over the years dating back to emancipation, Charlottesville has changed dramatically…..with these profound changes have come an exponential increase in the level of violence and crime.”

      That’s a really crummy dog-whistle you got there Conrad.

      Reply
  6. Conrad

    Mr. Conrad,

    I suggest that you find another website on which you can discuss Charlottesville’s crime problems. I fail to see what this has to do with the post in question. If you continue to comment in this way your privileges will be revoked. This is your FINAL WARNING.

    KML

    Reply
      1. AP Chill

        Particularly tired are the bits she plagiarized word for word from the Daily Progress:

        “The flag shows the patina of age, along with the rents of battle, but it continues to serve as a reminder of what might have been the worst day in Charlottesville history, if not for the courage of its brave defenders.”

        http://bit.ly/1aKKe5N

        What is the penalty for cutting and pasting without citation in your classroom?

        Reply
    1. Larry Itliong

      In her speech she claims “dozens of citizens of Charlottesville” contacted the Flaggers, but now she publishes a transcript claiming “hundreds”:

      I can completely understand why the hundreds of citizens of Charlottesville who have contacted us do not feel comfortable attending these meetings or speaking up in this atmosphere.

      (“Transcript of remarks,” Charlottesville City Council Strikes 127 Year Tradition in Latest Assault on Confederate History, The Virginia Flaggers’ Blog, March 3, 2015) http://vaflaggers.blogspot.com/2015/03/since-january-announcement-that.html

      City Council said this:

      Citizen Engagement:
      City Council held a public hearing to gather input from the public on this issue. In addition, scores of people have sent emails to Council or posted on social media sites encouraging the Council to end the observance of Lee-Jackson Day. Twenty-one members of the public spoke during the hearing.

      (City Council Agenda, March 2, 2015) http://www.charlottesville.org/index.aspx?page=3661

      How about that. Anyhow, if either of Susan’s claims are correct she should have no difficulty producing the evidence. Assuming she wants to be believed, that is. She was the one talking about “sterling character” after all.

      Reply
      1. Andy Hall

        How many secret supporters the Flaggers have in Charlottesville is irrelevant; it’s the residents who speak up who get heard. A half-dozen Cville residents speaking in support of the holiday would’ve carried far more weight than the insulting, rambling harangues offered by folks who drove in from Richmond and Petersbuurg.

        Reply
        1. Larry Itliong

          Agreed. And Susan’s invisible, timid heritage army of untold proportions aside, here’s one lifelong resident who did speak up and get heard:

          MARY CAREY, 2/17/2015
          at 53:30
          http://charlottesville.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1062&meta_id=18399

          Good evening, my name is Mary Carey. I live at 100 Ridge Street. And thank you, Ms. Dede, for that announcement about Mrs. Williams. Mrs. Williams taught me in high school. “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” That’s William Faulkner. But I’d like to say about the last meeting, with the Lee-Jackson Day: I’ve never been so, I don’t know how you put it, “disrespected” is the word I’m trying to find. Those people came up here from Richmond and did exactly what they wanted to do. They embarrassed Charlottesville. They disrespected this council. They disrespected the people that was in the council. They disrespected this chamber. And then all of a sudden everybody was pointing over here, because we were sitting over there. We didn’t like what they were saying about their history. We knew their history. We were raised on their history. I went through an all-black school and was taught their history. They didn’t want us to learn black history, and they still don’t. But I know my history, and I knew theirs. What went through my mind that night when that man got up here with all them swastikas, and rebel flags, and tassels on his hat, and started talking about “y’all don’t know about history,” and then Mr. Kirby came and stood over top of me and told me I “got to be quiet!” Not “stay black and die” but “got to be quiet!” I saw the Klan ride down through ((D…)) Street on trucks with little racks of guns in the back of their little truck, with the little Ghostbuster hat on, and waving the Confederate flag and telling my mother and father and sisters and brothers what they’re going to do to us. The little Bennie brothers over here in Belmont used to ride their little motorcycles down through the black neighborhood, the little gang, and telling black people down on 6th Street, and down at where Garrett Square is now, which you call ((…)), “Don’t you bring your black ass across Avon Street or we’ll hang you off the Belmont Bridge!” That is why black people do not like that Belmont Bridge. That is why you don’t have that many supporters about that Belmont Bridge, because it brings back such bad memories. And when I came into this council I did not come in here to hear that. Mr. Jones had already told them that Richmond denied, that their city denied that day. Then they come up here in Charlottesville and start a fight. They got me upset. I didn’t like it. I still don’t like it. You vote for it, hey, I don’t know what to say about you. Thank you.

          Several councilors did respond starting at 1:10:00.

          Reply
  7. Bruce Gabor

    What I find difficult to understand is why the Confederate Aficionados feel the need to have a government anything approve their holiday. While I am fairly new to confronting this confederate movement, I get the feeling that these folks are not for big government which seems to be the thing they are fighting for with the desire for the council accepting or approving of Lee-Jackson Day. Same thing can be said for the Lexington decision, why do they care if the city government proclaims the holiday?

    Reply
    1. James Harrigan

      ….why do they care if the city government proclaims the holiday?
      Good question, Bruce. I think the answer has to do with why the holiday was established in the first place, and why the government named parks and built statues to honor Lee and Jackson. The reason governments in the former Confederate states honored the Lost Cause was as a visual, public proclamation of white supremacy, which is a system of government-enforced racial hierarchy. The Flaggers and their ilk long for the days of white supremacy, and it angers and frustrates them to see the past achievements of white supremacy dismantled.

      Reply
  8. Tim Desmond

    I have to disagree with the contention that parks and historic landmarks should be renamed in an effort to distance ourselves from the flaws apparent in our collective history. We need sober and permanent reminders
    in place to ensure that the lessons of our past are not easily ignored. I also think a distinction should be made between constructive memorialization and attempts to rancorously cling to the symbols of an unenlightened philosophy. The purpose of national memorialization rituals should be to call attention to and celebrate the progress we have made in shaping our values and practices, and to consider what this effort cost us. Parading around in a pageantry that glorifies the odious ideals of an oppressive and racist cause shows us to have not yet completely reconciled ourselves with these lessons. Perhaps it elitist to suppose that there is a “right” way to remember or interpret history. Still it is hard to see how divisive and intentional politicizing and distortion of the historical record can be a fruitful approach. Can we really embrace the symbols or figureheads associated with a misguided credo without lending it support and legitimacy? Can you celebrate Lee the man in a statewide occasion without also seemingly endorsing the values of the cause for which he fought? I personally don’t think that detachment is achievable, and as such the holiday would be in service of celebrating repugnant and regressive opinions and behaviors. So good riddance.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      The balance between continuity and change is a tricky one. Having lived in Charlottesville I firmly believe that it is an ideal place in which discussions about these sensitive issues are possible. Ultimately, these decisions must play out in in local government and that is almost always politically charged.

      I am pleased that the decision was made to end public acknowledgment of Lee-Jackson Day. Very few people in Virginia acknowledge the day in a formal way. Lee and Jackson Parks were ideal places for me to talk about memory of the Civil War with my students. They offer opportunities for future members of the community to think about its connection to the past. There are certainly no easy answers.

      Reply
      1. timothy desmond

        Thanks for your thoughtful response. It is very interesting to notice the stark difference between the way the war is remembered in parts of the south, versus elsewhere in the country. Where I was born in southern Florida the issue seemed fairly remote (that would be in Key West, which is a world unto itself, very much isolated from the greater south, geographically and politically). During my travels in Georgia and the Carolinas however, I was quite surprised and a bit taken aback by the sheer number of reminders of the wars legacy and impact. Especially in Georgia where it seemed that every other park was either the site of a historic battlefield or took its name from a Confederate general. I suppose the fact of this disparity shouldn’t surprise anyone. The war was, after all fought almost entirely in the southern states. Yet that fact alone does’t seem to fully capture the difference in how it is perceived regionally. The war and the issues it brings forth, just seem to have a much greater sense of immediacy and a more palpable gravitational pull for those in the south. The debate over Lee-Jackson day, and the flag brandishing, just seem like further confirmation of that reality.

        Reply
        1. Allison Trunkey

          I definitely agree with you, Tim; the way my Georgian cousins were taught about Sherman’s March sounded vastly different from how I was taught, growing up in Washington State. They told me that when their teachers even venture near his name, Sherman is framed as a barbarian. To me, he was described as an unfortunate but necessary side-effect of war, but nonetheless as a hero of Unionism.

          It’s natural to subscribe to the perspective of the places that raise us, and honestly I don’t think I’ll ever truly empathize with Southern ideals, but in discussing the remembrance of people who are essential to old Confederate pride, I think it’s possible to at least understand some nuance of that perspective. The hard part is deciding what we can universally agree upon as appropriate remembrance – what commemoration highlights the past within which all or most sectors of society can find meaning. Lee-Jackson day was, to me, an inappropriate display of remembrance, but I understand that to some, it was a comforting reminder of Old Southern values and valor. Perhaps one single event, day, or memorial that accomplishes this goal is impossible, given the degree of divisiveness associated with the Civil War, but discussion and debate of any form are better than silence and disregard of incongruity.

          Reply
  9. Tessa Dow

    It seems to me that the city council did exactly what the community of Charlottesville wanted. As Kevin Levin stated in his post, “Representatives of the city’s chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had every opportunity to voice their displeasure and chose not to do so.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans clearly had ample time and opportunities to fight against the discontinuation of Lee-Jackson Day but with their decision not to, it begs the question as to why there has been any resistance at all. I personally believe that this vote is not trying to take anything away from Lee or Jackson, but rather showing that Charlottesville has been able take an important step away from Confederate past.
    While I don’t disagree with the renaming of parks and removing of statues, I don’t believe will give Charlottesville the results they want; it will never erase the past, nor people’s memories of the past, and it won’t allow people to have an open dialogue about sensitive questions such as how their past should be remembered. The people who are celebrating the Confederate philosophy by buying land and raising Confederate flags has only created a larger division between people. There must be a way for the community in Charlottesville to find common ground, to find a way to communicate and compromise with one another. Our history has proven to us that we are capable of reconciliation.
    While we can never forget the past, we can also never go back to it. It is important that we take opportunities, such as this vote, to move forward and learn from previous mistakes. While I have spoken of compromise between people, it is important to remember that raising a symbol of oppression and a racist cause didn’t work in the past and won’t work in today’s society. There may not be only one way to celebrate or commemorate our history, but there are certain things that are better left in our past.

    Reply
  10. Allison Trunkey

    What I find problematic about Lee-Jackson Day, and therefore encouraging about how Charlottesville has publicly ended the celebration of this day, is the simple association with the Confederate Cause that is inherent in their names; we remember Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson for their service in the Civil War. Not for their service in the Mexican War, or contributions that could have otherwise distinguished them throughout history. Especially when their two names are linked, the association becomes one focused entirely on one of the most divisive and destructive eras of our nation, and inevitably with the question of slavery.

    In other words, because the way we remember history has much to do with key people and events, Lee and Jackson effectively represent the pride of the South, the militant struggle for secession, and the ideological thunderclap of slavery. I question that it matters to the general public today whether the South seceded in the name of state sovereignty or the expansion of slavery – in the end, the Civil War will be collectively remembered as the war over slavery, and to commemorate the two leading figures of Southern pride above all perpetuates the divisive nature of the war into today.

    Charlottesville is predominantly white, but more than 20% of the population is African American*. By all means, we ought to remember the war in as nuanced a fashion as we are able, which includes Confederate interpretations and commemorations. But as you say, not celebrating Lee-Jackson Day is not the same as denouncing the two men; it is more acknowledging that the symbolism they manifest is complicated, and that the day perhaps neglected the historical remembrance of a significant portion of the population.

    * See 2010 ethnic breakdown: http://www.clrsearch.com/Charlottesville-Demographics/VA/Population-by-Race-and-Ethnicity

    Reply
  11. Theo Munger

    I wonder how significant adamant supporters of a proud confederate memory deem decisions like this to be. In other words, why are protestors protesting here? What are they losing with the end of Lee-Jackson Day, and what would they gain through its continuance? I’d assume there are several very reasonable and legitimate answers to this—people believe that paying respect to some of the bravest men who fought for the Confederacy is worthwhile, and without it, heritage they feel to be very personal and significant is lost. The issue then seems to be the state of remembrance in Virginia—no state holidays are awarded for ill-conceived causes, nor are parades thrown for vilified heroes. It seems to me that those arguing on behalf of Lee-Jackson Day believe by extension in the importance of local culture over national—nothing wrong with that, to be sure—yet in this case the subversion of national heritage works against the tide of reconciliation, and a constructive, peaceful collective remembrance becomes less likely. It’s somewhat shocking to think this fight over remembrance is still going on, but the very fact that there was a Lee-Jackson Day to debate over is testament to the enduring presence of contested memory. “Constructive remembrance” comes off as strictly anti-Southern in this context, and many would argue that both Union and Confederate sympathizers aught to be granted the right to commemorate the valor of their leaders, and the sacrifices they made in fighting for their ideals. Yet the fact remains that glorifying Confederate leaders, in whatever capacity, must necessarily be accompanied by a silent endorsement of the causes for which they fought. Individuals are free to believe what they’d like, but on the state and federal level, such endorsement strikes me as inappropriate. Ending Lee-Jackson Day is a step in the right direction when it comes to endorsing methods by which to remember the Civil War.

    Reply
  12. Zach Arden

    The decision by the city council of Charlottesville to announce that Lee-Jackson Day will no longer be observed is certainly a significant one and should be looked at in a positive light. Also, as Kevin stated, the city council should be commended for its inclusive policies in the decision making process. I think in regards to how we decide to commemorate our heroes- no matter the place- we are making a conscious decision to not just celebrate these men or women for their accomplishments but more so for what those accomplishments stood for in a broader context. In this case when it comes to simply the military achievements of both Lee and Jackson, recognition it could be argued is certainly well deserved. However, especially today in the 21st century it is impossible to look at those military accomplishments without simultaneously linking them with the failed cause of the south in the Civil War which is obviously synonymous with slavery. While some of Lee’s valiant military efforts and achievements from Manassas to Chancellorsville and Jacksons like his Shenandoah campaign should garner attention, they should also not warrant a holiday designed to celebrate them alone because it divides the people more so than any holiday should. Furthermore, Holidays are meant to symbolize a nation or in this case a local community or city banded together not divided which is exactly what Lee-Jackson day seemed to do. It alienated those (and it is a vast number of people) that were against the South and their belief system during the war. Now as I mentioned their military accomplishments do deserve to be celebrated simply for their sheer ability as military leaders but how can one do that without separating them from the cause they were fighting for? Well in fact there is a day already in place designed to do just that: Memorial Day. In a far greater way Memorial Day is a better day to celebrate the military accomplishments and only the military accomplishments of both General Lee and General Jackson because it is also a day where people can celebrate the military accomplishments of others as well. I believe it is important to celebrate who you want as that is a basic right of living in the United States but it is more important to ensure the meaning of the holidays are not offensive and in the case of Lee-Jackson Day I believe for far too many people the day was just that: Offensive and undeserved.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Zach,

      Thanks to you and everyone else for adding your thoughts to this topic. Clearly, we all have an opinion on this subject, but I am wondering where we go next?

      How should a city like Charlottesville go about engaging members of the community around these controversial topics? Is it even possible given the passionate testimony that we’ve already seen?

      Reply
      1. Zach Arden

        HI Kevin,

        Thank you for your comment and important questions. I believe in regards to this controversial topic it is possible to engage the members of the community in such a way that both respects everyone’s belief systems and pays homage to those who deserve to be commemorated. I think there are possibly ways to go about this.

        The first idea that comes to mind while it may be unrealistic is a renaming of the Lee and Jackson parks to show that reconciliation is possible. Perhaps renaming the Lee park to the Lee-Grant park could help do this as in real life both Lee and Grant described years after the war a sort of admiration for the other. Also, due to the fact they will always be linked together from the great battles they fought against each other linking them together as a show of respect to both sides seems to make sense.

        Just an idea and maybe engaging members of the community around such controversial topics is impossible but there should at least be an effort to do so as it is extremely important to remember this time in history.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Thanks for the follow-up, Zach. Renaming is always a possibility but it would be strange to walk into a Grant Park that includes one of the largest equestrian statues of Stonewall Jackson. I recently wrote a post in which I try to make the point that there is value in maintaining the names of sites that offend us. In this case, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. I would say the same thing about Lee and Jackson Park. One possibility is to place historical markers that explain the history of the park and the origin of the monuments themselves. A brief interpretation may go far to defusing some of the hostility that many identify in reference to these sites.

          It’s certainly a tough nut to crack.

          Reply
          1. Theo Munger

            It certainly seems difficult to begin and maintain a productive conversation on possible ways to reconcile when nobody is much interested in compromise. I see the value in renaming and offering up some concessions to Lee-Jackson Day supporters, but the problem seems to be the message it might imply for the larger community. With some protest and flag waving, one can shift public remembrance of the past in some small way–maybe not the most appropriate idea spread if reconciliation is the goal. I wonder if there might not be a surefire way to placate angry voices on both sides of the fence. Clearly, someone will always dissent with the decisions being made. But I do think broadening the scope of Memorial Day might help. Including specific Confederate remembrance on a day devoted to veterans might shift the focus more towards military feats and individual valor, as opposed to glorifying an ideology, however subtly. I’d be interested to see how some of these ideas would come across to the Charlottesville community and others like it.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              But I do think broadening the scope of Memorial Day might help. Including specific Confederate remembrance on a day devoted to veterans might shift the focus more towards military feats and individual valor, as opposed to glorifying an ideology, however subtly.

              Good point. Memorial Day does provide those who are interested to pay respects to Confederate soldiers for whatever reason. In the end, there is nothing illegal about remembering the Confederate past and the men who fought for it as one chooses. The question is whether it should be acknowledged by local government. The trend is clear and it’s safe to say those days are over. Confederate heritage groups are growing smaller and smaller every year, which may be why these groups are so vocal. I still wonder how cities like Charlottesville can go about engaging those who are interested in civil discourse about their collective past.

              Reply
  13. Zach Arden

    Thanks Kevin, I appreciate the response. I would say I would agree with you that it would be weird to walk in to a park with Grant in its name and have a Stonewall Jackson statue in it. I do think some sort of brief explanations could be a good idea.

    I agree a tough question but an important one none the less.

    Reply
  14. Lisanny Manzueta

    It is interesting to see these types of decisions, mostly because of the different opinions of people. Ones which vary depending on the persons idealistic beliefs. The decision to no longer celebrate Lee-Jackson Day made by the city council in Charlottesville is not only interesting, but in ways significant because to some people in the south Lee-Jackson Day was a day of remembering a confederate hero. Ones who stood for what they believed in. The people do not want to forget the two confederate leaders, who in their beliefs fought for states’ rights. This is a very controversial issue because to African Americans from the South, what people like Jackson and Lee were doing was depriving them of their rights, and of the emancipation that the North wanted to implement. Some of these people might even think that keeping Lee-Jackson day could mean the agreement of slavery. In my opinion it is certainly a positive outcome to no longer celebrating Lee-Jackson day because now this side of the war is not being idolized. There should not be a day commemorated to people who brought the country apart. These types of celebrations divide the country up more than it already is and it is just great to have these kind of events cancelled.
    In my American Class we were talking about why people might not want this event to get canceled, and the topic of “a day off” came up. This is something that I imagine people would do because there are people that do not care enough about their history, but that want a day off from work or school. This is an issue in my eyes because it shows how uninterested the people are. They should know why the event is being canceled and who these people are. Not only know the confederate part of the civil war, but all of it.

    Also, there was more to the war then the two commanders. People who agree with the beliefs of Fredrick Douglass would argue that if there is a day dedicated to two men that sent soldiers out to their deaths then there should be days for African Americans who bravely fought through the war despite the South reluctance to accept them into the army. This is explained in the book Memory by David Blight. Which brings me to the thought that we as a whole country should be moving forward from the war. Therefore, I do agree with Lee-Jackson day being canceled, it can be a great start to how people remember the war.

    Reply
  15. Mark Raskin

    Personally I have mixed feelings about this decision to end Lee-Jackson day. On the one hand, I don’t think it should be a paid holiday because that just shows that the government in some way supports what these men represent. Most people remember both men as rebels and “the bad guys” from the civil war, but this is not their only accomplishment. Both men also fought in the Mexican war and were very distinguished. In addition, Lee was asked to fight for the union, but refused because he felt he needed to fight for his home state. While both of these men fought for a rebel cause, they did in some way help shape our country into what it is today. I feel it is wrong for us to continue this holiday as a paid holiday because that (at least in the eyes of the average person) implies that the state government still supports the views of these men and what they fought for. However, I don’t think the state has the right to completely end the holiday all together, although I do believe they have the right to stop paying people to take the day off for such a holiday. While it wouldn’t necessarily be state recognized and people (probably) won’t get work off for it, they would still be able to celebrate in some form, weather it be laying wreaths on memorial sites or statues or having a private gala/party to remember these men and whatever they represent to them. In this way, the state could avoid associating itself with what it believes to be the wrong message, while also potentially avoiding all of the outrage from the “Virginia Flaggers.” On the subject of renaming/removing statues, monuments, and parks, I believe that it is far more understandable to do this mainly because, unlike a holiday, the statue or monument is a large visually striking shrine which cant be ignored because it is in plain view where everyone can (and must) see it. A holiday however, as most of us probably know too well, can be easily ignored or forgotten (like mothers day or an anniversary) mainly because unless you have it on your calendar or an alarm set for that day, there is nothing forcing you to observe it. All in all, I think it was the right decision for the state to stop funding the paid holiday, but they should not have abolished the holiday entirely. While we can choose not to glorify certain parts of our past, we must always remember never to forget it so we can continue to learn from the past to continue improving the future.

    Reply
  16. Meaghan McDonald

    I do not necessarily agree that the city council’s decision to end formal recognition of Lee-Jackson Day is a step in the right direction for the city of Charlottesville, Va. I believe that on principle Lee-Jackson Day should continue to be a paid-holiday for the city of Charlottesville and other cities in Virginia where it has already been abolished. I say this not because I think this holiday has been appropriately celebrated, but because I see little good being done by abolishing it. Is it not worth keeping this holiday so as to acknowledge, understand, and remember why it was created in 1889 and its cultural significance not only then, but also now 150 years removed from the Civil War? If we agree that historical parks and statues should maintain their original names, even if controversial in nature (as you expressed,) then what is different about retaining controversial holidays? Would they not also serve as learning experiences that teach us about current public opinions and at the same time about our past history that needs to be actively remembered? One controversial holiday that is still celebrated is Columbus Day, and although many schools have chosen not to observe it, it is still officially celebrated. Although I do not personally support the commemoration of Columbus Day, it should be recognized that there exist many holidays to men throughout history who have morally questionable backgrounds, yet we continue to observe them because they are central to historical events. To condemn Lee-Jackson Day, no matter what your opinion on the matter, results in a direct lessening of the ways in which we as Americans keep the memory of the Civil War alive. Although the city council has the power to abolish official recognition of this holiday, I do not see how they have the right to decide that it is not appropriate to the future of Virginia, when it is a holiday so acutely linked to the state’s past history.
    You state that communities, like the one that exists in Charlottesville, must find productive ways to engage in debates over how their collective past ought to be remembered. I wholeheartedly agree, but I do not see why this holiday must no longer be officially recognized in order to have these discussions. This holiday is beneficial in that it creates opportunities for public discourse, notwithstanding that some misguided citizens might attempt to misappropriate the commemoration to advance their own misguided agendas. With this holiday now abolished in many cities in Virginia, many children in the up-and-coming generations will hardly remember that there even was a Lee-Jackson Day that was once celebrated for over a hundred years. Perhaps some people might think this a good holiday to stop commemorating, and rightly so, but I personally do not believe there is any merit in deciding to vote for its removal strictly because some citizens no longer care to celebrate it, whereas others are overzealous in their celebrations. If these dialogues cease, the people of Virginia run the risk of adopting a selective remembrance, or even permitting a re-writing of history that borders dangerously on the side of resembling “historical amnesia.”
    Civil War historian David Blight concludes his article “The Origins of Memorial Day in the North and the South” by stating: “Those who remembered the war as the rebirth of the republic in the name of racial equality would continue to do battle with the growing number who would remember it as the nation’s test of manhood and the South’s struggle to sustain white supremacy.” I believe that Blight’s description of the unsettled opinions between Americans at the time immediately after the war still exists within today’s society on a lesser scale. Although Confederate flag-wavers and Confederate hero-worshipers do still exist and attempt to distort Lee-Jackson Day, this does not provide reason enough to completely do away with the holiday. I believe Lee-Jackson Day should be celebrated until all people can look upon the day without taking offense, as this is the only proof possible of a reconciled people.

    Reply
    1. Lisanny Manzueta

      Despite what I said before on the matters for why it is not a bad thing that Lee-Jackson day was suspended, I do agree with Meaghan that if it continues to be a holiday there is a possibility that people can learn to celebrate without judgment. However, I see slim chances of this happening. Mainly because most people are too proud to forget and if they are reminded of what Lee and Jackson did every year there is bound to be someone who does not agree. After reading your post Meaghan, I absolutely agree that if monuments and other controversial figures are kept and considered parts of an important history, that Lee-Jackson day is no different. The only issue that arises from this day is that a whole town is being stopped in commemoration to these two men. It gives people who are not in favor of the confederacy, or who are offended by such things a reason to be angry. This can cause a backfire, and instead of people learning “learning to look upon the day without taking offense” they will surely make it a bigger issue than it needs to be. I also believe that there is not much purpose for the day anymore, if people want to have this day they need to learn how to have it in a way that does not diminish (or even praise Lee and Jackson for their acts) people from the Union. This is very controversial and conflicting for me, because by reading everyone’s opinions I just start to wonder, why was the day allowed to be made in the first place? Could they not make a monument that would acknowledge Lee’s and Jackson’s efforts in the war? It would have been an easier issue to deal with because there are statues of Lincoln, and others who make part of history. Overall, I do agree with some of what you had to say Meaghan and I also believe that there could have been a better solution to the problem. A solution that did not abolish the efforts of these to commanders, but also one that did not praise them in a controversial way.

      Reply
      1. Meaghan McDonald

        Thanks for your response, Lisanny.

        I am glad that you seem to agree that there is a public good in continuing the city’s official acknowledgment of Lee-Jackson Day, at least as far in that it encourages a continued contemplation on past history and its present and future remembrance. I believe that there can be spirited public discourse around Lee-Jackson Day without it devolving into something that is lacking in civility and/or encourages ad hominem attacks that impugn the character of these two men.
        You state that you “see slim chances of” Lee-Jackson Day being viewed impartially, and I quite agree with you on this point. I should clarify that when I stated “Lee-Jackson Day should be celebrated until all people can look upon the day without taking offense,” I was only speaking theoretically, and merely meant to convey a sense that the holiday must be celebrated until its commemoration becomes less contentious than it is in current celebrations. I believe you mistakenly interpreted my analysis here on Lee-Jackson Day as suggesting that it will only be a successful holiday once there is no offense taken by it and no disagreement or strife over it. As so, I do not understand why you believe Lee-Jackson Day needs to be celebrated without any judgments or partialities on the part of Virginians. I believe this type of partisanship would actually be beneficial in preserving an honest account of the evolving nature of Lee-Jackson Day, and would also ensure that a broader remembrance of the Civil War by this generation is conserved. I think Lee-Jackson Day is useful insomuch as it can help answer how and why the Civil War still resonates with Americans today, now 150 years removed (and also possibly how it no longer resonates with Americans.)
        Lee-Jackson Day can also serve as a template for viewing and explaining why division in opinions between Americans are still noticeable in many parts of the country, such as it continues to be in Charlottesville. More than anything else, Lee-Jackson Day should remain a state-recognized holiday because of the lessons it has to teach the children of this and future generations. While I understand that fringe groups do jeopardize any chances of having amicable and productive discussions surrounding the commemoration of Lee and Jackson, they have brought a level of attention to the holiday that has revived contemplation as to what its proper commemoration should demonstrate. Only once we consider the multitude of feelings and opinions on Lee-Jackson Day, can the holiday’s true meaning be understood.
        Lee-Jackson Day extends far beyond solely being about what was once a paid-holiday for city workers. It serves as a gateway for further social commentary on the current state of citizens in Virginia, and how they relate to past generations of Virginians, such as those who vehemently celebrated the creation of Lee-Jackson Day in 1889/1904. You asked why this holiday was even created in the first place, and the answer to this question is quite simple. Sentiments regarding Lee, Jackson, and the Confederate Lost Cause were quite different in the near aftermath of the Civil War from what they are today, and this explains how Lee-Jackson Day has come to be viewed as a controversial holiday in more recent years of celebration, when it used to not have an air of controversy surrounding it.
        However, I think more than anything else, the people of Charlottesville, perhaps largely due to their observance and scrutiny of fringe groups, have transformed Lee-Jackson Day away from being a holiday commemorating these men for who they were as individuals, and rather made it into a more controversial holiday that commemorates Lee and Jackson not at generals of the Civil War, but as stalwarts of the Lost Cause. Lee-Jackson Day need not be controversial at all, but will continue to be so for as long as we make it be as such.
        You argued that a negative outcome of officially celebrating Lee-Jackson Day is that it “gives people…a reason to be angry.” While this may be so, considering how it is currently perceived, I remain resolute in my belief that Americans should not shy away from having the hard discussions that challenge pre-existing convictions. I do not believe Lee-Jackson Day has been given proper justice in its past commemorations or in its current lack of public recognition by many cities across Virginia, but I do believe that these failings can be overcome and that the people of Charlottesville can re-enter their relationship and correspondence with Lee-Jackson Day.

        Thanks,
        Meaghan McDonald

        Reply
  17. Anna Reeves

    What strikes me about the Virginia flaggers and those who, like Susan Hathaway, campaign for the maintenance of Lee Jackson day is that while fighting for the memory of southern confederate heritage, they seem to forget a vital part of it. The part that seems to be forgotten or ignored is that the confederate cause in the civil war was to maintain the southern way of life, which was rooted in and dependent upon slavery. Stephen Douglass said in a 1894 speech, “I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the republic and those who fought to destroy it.” Douglass was for the most part alone in his determination. In the post-reconstruction years, amid the movement towards blue-grey reconciliation, the cause and original meaning of the civil war was largely pushed aside, or forgotten. This forgetfulness allowed for a backlash against the progress made for racial equality in America.
    150 years after the civil war, we are obviously in a much different place than we were in 1915. However, cherry-picking from history and selectively forgetting can still prove dangerous, or at least insensitive and hurtful. We should learn from what the post-war generation did wrong and be careful about what we are celebrating.
    A state-recognized Lee-Jackson celebration day is paying tribute to a cause to which it seems (based on the results of the vote) the citizens of Charlottesville are no longer loyal. Especially because the holiday lumps together the celebration of Lee and Jackson, it becomes a celebration not only of the two men, but also of the Confederate lost cause. I don’t claim to understand how people of Charlottesville feel, but based on the events of the past few weeks I assume that they no longer feel compelled to bestow Jackson, Lee, or the Lost Cause with such an honor.
    This doesn’t mean that Lee and Jackson, along with the roles they played in local and national history should be forgotten. It is just the opposite: they should be remembered for their true strengths and flaws, for both the honorable and dishonorable aspects of their leadership. It is important that residents of ex-confederate states remember their confederate past, but also realize that they are not bound to our ancestors’ decisions, and don’t have to justify their mistakes.
    In light of Meaghan’s insightful comment, I do think that it could be acceptable to keep Lee-Jackson day, but that its purpose would have to be clarified. In a similar fashion it may be a better method, rather than removing controversial statues, to contribute additional context. Maybe add a plaque nearby serving to further inform the viewer, and allow him/her to also understand the role of the creator’s bias in shaping the memory of the subject through the monument. Maybe in the future a Lee-Jackson day type holiday could be used simply as an opportunity to remember rather than to celebrate.

    Reply
    1. Meaghan McDonald

      Hi Anna,

      I strongly like and agree with your closing statement in which you suggest that perhaps there can exist a holiday akin to Lee-Jackson Day that is dedicated solely to remembrance of the Civil War, specifically of Lee, Jackson, or the Lost Cause, rather than its celebration. I think this is an appropriate direction in which to take a holiday, such as Lee-Jackson Day, that has become heated and controversial. Since few people in Virginia still seem desirous of celebrating Lee or Jackson due to changes in how they are typically received now 150 years removed from the Civil War, I think that a splendid concession in keeping alive the memory of Lee and Jackson would be to adopt a new, nearly identical holiday that would be perceived as purely for remembrances’ sake. I am most concerned that along with the suspension of Lee-Jackson Day will come further (intentional) forgetfulness of a past history that is so vital to present-day America. The Civil War truly was the turning point in American history, and if the Civil War lapses from the memory of current generations an accurate understanding of America before and after the Civil War will be permanently lost.
      I like that you proposed ways of clarifying the purpose of Lee-Jackson Day, so as to make the holiday’s function resemble a shade of its former hue, such as the way it was received in its initial years of celebration after its founding. However, I disagree that providing any plaque with further context next to the monuments of Lee or Jackson will actually alter anyone’s prior judgments on the meaning of Lee-Jackson Day. I believe the people of Charlottesville and other cities in Virginia are deeply divided on their opinion of Lee-Jackson Day, and I feel that their feelings for the holiday go beyond any fact that could be written on the plaque. The fact of the matter is that some people will always perceive Lee-Jackson Day to be emblematic of the Confederate Lost Cause no matter how much you propose that Lee-Jackson day is really only about the celebration of two great generals who have close ties to the state of Virginia. I hardly have any better idea of what Charlottesville should do next in their effort to discuss Lee-Jackson Day. You are probably correct in asserting that the most promising path is to re-define Lee-Jackson Day through the adoption of a new holiday with no past history and that is dedicated simply to Civil War memory and remembrance. This fresh start will encourage public discourse over the state’s chosen Civil War remembrance, as opposed to its true happenings during the years of the fighting of the Civil War. This type of public discourse has been prevented by Lee-Jackson Day’s divisive history. By being so caught up on the political correctness, or lack thereof, in having the city publically recognize Lee-Jackson Day, actual Civil War remembrance by Virginians has been hindered. This new holiday will allow for a fresh start in the evaluation of how Virginia and its citizens will engage with their collective remembrance from this point forward. The only problem I see with your idea, is that I doubt that many Virginians will support the creation of any holiday, no matter what its intention is, if it is connected to the Confederacy in any way, shape, or form.

      Thanks,
      Meaghan McDonald

      Reply
  18. Mr. E

    I am sincerely shocked at what I read about people living in Charlottesville. All this talk of forgetting our heritage and pulling down statues. Why forget? I’m sure that there are some families than can trace ancestry to relatives that fought in that war. What’s next, forgetting our great grandfathers and what they went through in World War 1? A couple relatives of mine that just passed away within the last couple of weeks, were in the D-Day invasion, and they wrote letters home about what was going on over there. Should my family forget about that? I am a military vet that has just recently learned of the complete history of the United States military, and those of you that have never lost a relative to being shot, or stabbed or blown up by a bomb of some kind, have no idea what people that fought in a war in the military went through. While some where single, others left entire lives of family and homes behind. if they came back, they were usually handicapped for the rest of their lives. Can you imagine what it would be like for a military chaplain to come to your door and tell you your only child or spouse were dead? Families of veterans of EVERY war pay a price, and tearing down these memorials would send the signal that nobody cares, and could theoretically might change fortunes of the incumbent political party.

    Reply

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.