Former Student Petitions to Save Lee Monument

Tredegar in Richmond

Civil War Memory Class at Tredegar in Richmond (2007) – EH has his arm around Lincoln.

Last night’s meeting of the Charlottesville City Council on the future of its Confederate monuments was well worth watching in its entirety. A number of people spoke, expressing a wide range of perspectives on the history of these sites and what should, if anything, be done. One current and two former history professors from the University of Virginia spoke as did a Robert E. Lee impersonator, who suggested that a monument to Sojourner Truth ought to be erected. Yes, you heard that right.

Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers spoke and then promptly walked out of the room, demonstrating once again that this group has absolutely no interest in engaging community members. They are content on imposing their views along with threats of erecting Confederate flags in high trafficked areas if they don’t get their way.

But the surprise of the evening was watching my former student, Elliott Harding, address the city council with an incredibly thoughtful proposal. Elliott took my courses on Civil War history and memory when I taught in Charlottesville, which included tours of the city’s Confederate monuments as well as Monument Avenue and Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. You can read and sign a petition that Elliott organized as part of a new group that he helped found called, “Friends of Charlottesville Monuments.”

On Tuesday, March 22nd, Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy and other supporters plan on making a formal proposal for the City of Charlottesville to remove the statue of General R.E. Lee from Lee Park. Mr. Bellamy cites his experience with several individuals who feel negatively toward the statue. “I’ve spoken with different people who have said they have refused to step foot in to that park because of what that statue and the name of that park represents. And we can’t have that in the city of Charlottesville,” he says.  Rather than tear down Lee’s statue, this petition serves as a proposal to keep it and add a statue of another leader of modern times, the late Julian Bond. Bond was an honored professor at the University of Virginia for over 20 years and member of the Charlottesville community. He impacted our area and our nation in many ways and his recent passing in 2015 makes this decision both timely and appropriate. A memorial for Mr. Bond would serve as a unique contrast to whatever legacy General Lee left on racial tensions. For many, Lee is not a symbol of racism or oppression, but it is understandable that his memory may be viewed that way. Similarly, some may not support all of the aspects of Mr. Bond’s legacy, as he was outspoken on an array of issues, but his work toward the advancement of civil rights is commendable. By converting Lee Park into Lee-Bond Park, or creating some other alternative, the City could send a clear message that history is not to be forgotten, but progress is to be celebrated. Please take this into consideration over the next few weeks when discussing any plans or proposals for Lee Park. This option may prove to be more cost effective, while unifying the community rather than dividing it. We cannot erase history, but we can memorialize how far we’ve come. Let’s erect a sharp contrast, rather than tear down our past.

The city council is planning on forming a blue ribbon commission on what to do with these sites. I do hope they consider appointing Elliott to this important group. It’s nice to know that Elliott’s passion for history continues, but more importantly it is encouraging to see a former student engaged in his community around how it remembers and commemorates its past.

About Kevin Levin

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and leave a comment if you are so inclined. Looking for more Civil War content? Join the Civil War Memory Facebook group and follow me on Twitter. Check out my book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, which is an ideal introduction to the subject of Civil War memory and the 1864 battle.

20 comments add yours

  1. He has a valid point of view but the flaggers / neo-confederates are never going to let the whole truth be told or portrayed and that is simply a fact. People are done with being told to live with the PC version of Lee as a hero and the Confederacy as noble. It is shameful enough that it took this nation so long to see the inhumanity of slavery, but to have actually fought a war over keeping it and trying to tear this nation asunder is just an egregious thing to revere! Drastic idiocy calls for drastic refutation.

    • I wouldn’t worry about that. What matters is that the city is moving forward with conversations and a blue ribbon commission that will take up this important subject.

  2. I hope you are right but I fear the committee will be bullied. That is what these demonstrations are all about. It will take backbone to stand up to them and do the right thing. Godspeed to the committee.

    • I wouldn’t call what the Virginia Flaggers held at Lee Park as anything approaching a demonstration. In fact, it is important to keep in mind that despite all the coverage they get, the Virginia Flaggers have had very little impact on decisions made in the public sphere.

    • Sandi, I wouldn’t be worried about the citizens of Charlottesville (including me) being “bullied” by the Flaggers or any other groups outside our city. We are perfectly capable of making up our own minds about what to do about the monuments to the white supremacist Lost Cause ideology.

      Elliott Harding’s petition is reasonable, but I oppose his solution. The idea of Julian Bond and RE Lee statues in the same park will simply promote the idea that white people have their monuments and black people have theirs. The Lee statue was intended to be and remains a symbol of white supremacy. It should be removed, and the park renamed (my suggestion is “Emanicipation Park”). The proper memorialization of Julian Bond, who believed and fought for civil rights for all people, is a separate matter.

      • The idea of Julian Bond and RE Lee statues in the same park will simply promote the idea that white people have their monuments and black people have theirs.

        Why do you say this given the fact that the suggestion was offered by a young white male. Elliott didn’t propose it as a monument to satisfy Charlottesville’s black community, but one that everyone could support.

        • Kevin, I wasn’t commenting on Elliott’s intentions, and his race has nothing to do with the merits of his proposal. My point is simple: Lee represents white supremacy, and there should be no place in our city for a monument to white supremacy. Elliott really goes awry when he says

          For many, Lee is not a symbol of racism or oppression, but it is understandable that his memory may be viewed that way. Similarly, some may not support all of the aspects of Mr. Bond’s legacy, as he was outspoken on an array of issues…

          This comparison is ridiculous – there is no comparison between what these two men represent and symbolize. It is also very naive and gives way too much credence to the false and disingenuous neoconfederate argument that confederate memorials can be viewed in isolation from the white supremacist ideology they were erected to celebrate.

          To state it another way, the whole “heritage not hate” idea (which I am not attributing to Elliott) is fundamentally racist, because it boils down to “we don’t care what Confederate symbols represent to black people”.

          • I completely agree with James Harrigan, though I would change the last line to “we [neo-Confederates] don’t care what Confederate symbols represent to other people.” It is not only African-Americans who are offended by these symbols. The Confederate flag and statues to Confederate officials are symbols of a white supremacist, treasonous regime. Any person who holds the ideals of freedom and equality dear should be offended. People opposed to removal of the statue say people want to forget history. But I want more history to be remembered. Particularly the history of how one of the worst regimes in human history was destroyed at its inception.

  3. I hear a lot of Yankee, uneducated and uninformed sentiment. And if you were born in the South and are pro-taking down the monuments then you are anti-history and will be burned by the fires of repetition.

    Those who seek to eradicate history are doomed to repeat it. We, those who love our heritage, our ancestors…will never give in. Deo Vindice.

    • I am a Virginian with Confederate ancestors and my southern heritage is that integrity is the most important aspect of our being. It is not “uneducated and uninformed” to want the truth of history to be told and it is not “sentiment” either.

      I am “pro-taking down the monuments” because they do not really represent history, they represent the white supremacy support for the Confederate cause. And as the Bible tells us not to sin such that it might cause others to sin (as in mislead them) no, I will not be “burned by the fires” anywhere.

      No one is seeking to “eradicate history” and it is the neo-confederates and flaggers who are constantly threatening to repeat it, not us. If you love your heritage, tell the truth. Veritas Dei vincit

  4. Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers spoke and then promptly walked out of the room, demonstrating once again that this group has absolutely no interest in engaging community members.

    __

    No kiddin’. She starts out by threatening expensive lawsuits, and then suggests that elected members of the City Council don’t legitimately represent the wishes of their constituents because they aren’t Cville natives.

    You wonder why she even bothered to show up, because it certainly wasn’t with the intent of changing hearts and minds.

  5. Translation: “See? You don’t have to look very far to see my ubiquitous influence. It’s all about ME, ME, ME!” ~K. Levin

  6. Well this is rich, nothing is more “It’s all about ME, ME, ME!” than the flaggers and neo-confederate efforts. How ironic she totally ignores that.

  7. As always, I remain opposed to the destruction of any monument in the name of political expediency. I agree with young Mr. Harding that it is possible to be mindful of the past and accepting of the future. Indeed Julian Bond, a magnificent choice, has a rather checkered past – are we to pick him apart next in the long march to use history as a political cudgel?

  8. That is a good idea your former student suggests. I would hope here in Alexandria something similar is proposed. The Alexandria committee for discussing Confederate symbols is somewhat mired in misinformation here. Recently qualified city staff from their museum system are finally being asked to provide perspective. More times than not, these localities have very qualified staff to assist but they neglect to do so.

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