This is certainly one of those moments when I still wish I still lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tonight community leaders in Charlottesville will meet to urge the city council to rename Lee Park and remove the statue which was donated by Paul MacIntire in 1924. The vice mayor has come out publicly in favor of removal. The city recently ended its annual observance of Lee-Jackson Day and the Lee monument has been vandalized more than once in recent years.
The statues of Lee and Jackson situated just off of the well-trafficked “Downtown Mall” are prominent locations. I used both sites on a regular basis in my classes on the Civil War to teach topics related to historical memory and public art. They are impressive monuments.
It will be interesting to follow these public discussions, but I do hope they do not proceed without input from the new Nau Center for Civil War History, which just recently opened on the nearby campus of the University of Virginia. It has the staff and the resources to help to shape how this discussion unfolds.
I don’t know what role that would look like, but as I suggested the other day, it should involve a good deal of listening as opposed to lecturing the public to the standard tune of wayside markers, counter-monuments, etc. It is an opportunity to think outside the box. Charlottesville is a quirky place that has a solid track record of open dialogue on tough issues.
I have not read the Nau Center’s mission statement, but if it has any interest in public engagement, it doesn’t get any better than this.