Last night the commission tasked with making a decision about the future of Charlottesville’s Lee and Jackson monuments voted 6 – 3 to maintain these structures in their current locations. The commission’s decision is just a recommendation, but I suspect the city council will accept their conclusion and their list of recommendations.
Commission member John Edwin Mason put it this way on twitter:
We recommended that they should remain “on the condition that” their meanings are transformed & histories retold. @DailyProgress
— John Edwin Mason (@johnedwinmason) November 2, 2016
Those recommendations include promoting various cultural and historical resources throughout the community and establishing March 3 as “Liberation Day” or “Freedom Day” in recognition of the Union army’s entrance into the city in 1865.
Of course, how the meaning of Lee and Jackson parks will be “transformed” or “retold” is entirely dependent on the people of Charlottesville. It has already been impacted by the city council’s decision to discontinue recognizing Lee-Jackson Day.
I have refrained from sharing my own views about what communities should do with their monuments because I believe it is up to the people directly impacted.
These are local decisions, but having lived and taught in Charlottesville for ten years I don’t mind sharing that I agree with the commission’s decision. I tend to think that a commemorative landscape should reflect a community’s past and I prefer a little tension between different sites, if only to engage people around the tough questions and a little reflection.
This may not work for every community, but I believe that Charlottesville can set the example by thinking creatively about how to leverage existing and potentially new commemorative sites to promote a shared narrative and raise important questions about our shared history.