My Position on Confederate Monuments

In 2011 I published a piece at the Atlantic about the vandalism of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville. This week I was asked to reflect on how my understanding of this debate has evolved since then. Click here to read it.

My thinking on this complex issue continues to evolve. One of the reasons why this has been a struggle for me is that I am no longer willing to box myself in. This debate engages me as an educator, historian, activist, and protester. It engages me as a concerned citizen.

Richmond’s Monument Avenue Will Be Transformed

This has been one hell of a week. I have done more media interviews over the past few days than I have over the past decade. In addition to interviews I have written numerous op-eds, including this one for Smithsonian Magazine. Today I am finishing up a piece for the Atlantic, which asked me to track the evolution of my own thinking about this debate since 2011. More importantly, I am beginning to schedule visits with schools to offer advice on how to engage students about this subject. [click to continue…]

Empty Pedestals Need to be Interpreted

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville we are now witnessing a wave of Confederate monument removals across the country. Yesterday a group tore down a Confederate soldier statue in Durham, North Carolina. Last night the city of Baltimore removed its monuments, including one commemorating Lee and Jackson. Lexington will soon do the same. Others will certainly follow.

Many public historians planted their flag on the side of preservation for the purposes of education. The monuments are powerful tools that tell us not only a great deal about how Americans have chosen to remember the Civil War, but how these sites reinforced white supremacy throughout much of the twentieth century. I continue to make use of these sites for just that purpose.

As they come down, however, we need to rethink how we approach these empty pedestals and landscapes that will inevitably be transformed as a result. Empty pedestals are just as central to the story of these sites as the day they were dedicated. These are stories that need to be told and public historians are perfectly positioned to tell them.

We are going to need to be creative without an artifact to interpret. Technology can certainly be of service. Photographs and other primary documents can easily be integrated into tours of empty Confederate pedestals.

Of all the stories that we as public historians and educators can and need to tell about Confederate monuments, the most important may just be about those that we can no longer see.

Let’s get to work.

How Your School Can Address the Confederate Monument Controversy

For this former resident of Charlottesville, Virginia the events of this past weekend hit close to home. My wife and I are still coming to terms with the violence and scenes of bloodshed on streets that we used to walk. The educator in me has been thinking about ways that I can put my skills to use for those of you who are now either beginning the new school year or are just now heading back into the classroom. [click to continue…]

A Turning Point in the Confederate Monument Debate

Make no mistake about it, yesterday’s neo-Nazi rally in defense of the Robert E. Lee monument was a turning point in the broader debate about the place of these structures in our communities. Yes, monuments have already been taken down and flags lowered, but the sight of swastikas, battle flags, and men carrying automatic weapons will shift the relevant questions and clarify what is at stake moving forward. [click to continue…]

Neo-Nazis Clarify Confederate Monument Debate for Richmond

This morning I am bracing for the steady stream of photographs and videos that will soon litter my social media feeds from my former home of Charlottesville, Virginia. As most of you know a neo-Nazi rally is planned for Emancipation (formerly Lee) Park to protest the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument. Last night an unscheduled rally took place on the campus of the University of Virginia around a statue of the man who believed that the black and white races could never live peacefully together. [click to continue…]

Let Richmond’s Kids Figure Out What to Do With the Monuments

Last night the Richmond Monument Avenue Commission held its first public forum at the Virginia Historical Society. It went about as well as I predicted. You can read about it here, here, and here. The commission went into this meeting hoping to steer the discussion away from removal to what it describes as a “middle-of-the-road” solution. The audience appeared to largely ignore the direction and I can’t say that I blame them. At its heart this discussion is about deeply-held beliefs about history, heritage, and community identity. [click to continue…]