It is very likely that the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia will be removed by the end of the summer. All of the legal hurdles have been overcome and the city is going through the process of notifying the public of its intentions.
The removal will be a significant milestone in the broader debate about Confederate monuments and an important step for a community that is still coming to terms with the violent and deadly “Unite the Right Rally” in August 2017.
This week the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces published a statement calling on the city to take steps to ensure that the two monuments are never displayed in public spaces again. The commission was formed back in 2016 to offer recommendations on what to do with the monuments following the decision to remove them by the city council.
Their concern is that relocation of these monuments will potentially serve as a rallying point for white nationalists, just as they did in 2017. This is a legitimate concern, but there is a broader point to be made that communities that have or are planning to remove Confederate monuments should heed.
Communities like Charlottesville have a responsibility to ensure that their public spaces are not offensive to residents or result in residents feeling threatened and unwelcome. It goes without saying that if a monument or statue falls into this category it shouldn’t be handed over to an organization or another community where it will cause the same divisions and do the same damage.
The only viable solution for many of these Confederate monuments is transfer to a museum setting, but as I have mentioned numerous times, this is also far from an ideal solution. Few museums want to deal with the challenges of interpreting these monuments for the public right now. Many museums simply are not equipped to handle anything beyond the relatively small mass-produced soldier statues that continue to dot courthouse squares and other public spaces
Add to that the problem of size. The Lee and Jackson monuments are massive and unlikely to find a home in a museum setting.
Once removed the city of Charlottesville should place the monuments in storage for the foreseeable future. Perhaps at some point (say in five years) the community can revisit the issue and come to some agreement on a permanent solution that acknowledges the damage that these monuments have left in their wake and the pain they have caused so many people for far too long.