Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis all prayed at the church at one point or another during the war. It was there in April 1865 that Davis learned that Richmond must be evacuated. So, why the cold shoulder? It’s hard to tell at this point, but here is what we know. Yesterday the Sons of Confederate Veterans held their National Heritage Rally in the city, which was to include a panel discussion titled, “Debunking the Myth of the White Confederate Military” at the church The panelists were to include Teresa Roane archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy and Eric Richardson, who is currently a graduate student in history at North Carolina Central University. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is doing some very interesting research at the MOC. It is highly unlikely that the title of the panel or the panelists themselves were responsible for the church’s change of heart. The panel was to be followed by a revival service at the church. Apparently, at the last minute some time on Friday church officials canceled the event.
Update: The two posts on this subject have been combined for a short post at The Atlantic. Thanks again for the thoughtful feedback.
Students on Monument Avenue
Thanks to all of you who left comments in response to the recent story out of Richmond, Virginia, about the decorative art that was attached to three statues along Monument Avenue. The goal of the protester was to remind visitors and others that Richmond’s history extends beyond its preoccupation with its Confederate and may have also wanted to show that the monuments in question were erected at a time when African Americans were barred from local government and the kinds of conversations that directly shape how a local community remembers its collective past.
The post (as well as the online news reports) brought out some very strong views, but I am especially intrigued by those readers who not only approve of the additions of the plaques, but with the removal of the monuments. One reader had this to say:
I’m suggesting that’s an overly narrow framing of the issue, which should be: who gets to decide what messages take up our public space TODAY? Your view strikes me as giving too much privilege to the white supremacists who put up all the monuments in the first place. Just because they had that power once doesn’t entitle their “monuments” to deference for all time. I respect your scholarly approach to this, but I disagree – I’d rather see these monuments removed to a “Museum of Racism”.
I thought I would take just a few moments to clarify my position. First, I don’t believe that monuments to the past necessarily warrant an indefinite life span. I can think of any number of examples where I believe the removal of monuments and memorials are justified from the toppling of statues of King George III at the beginning of the American Revolution to the pulling down of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. In those two examples, however, their removal functioned as part of the end of a government or revolution. I’m sure we could just easily come up with other examples justifying the removal of a historical marker of one sort or another.
Today I learned that three statues on Richmond’s Monument Avenue are now adorned with “street art”, though the extent of the damage looks to be minimal. Apparently, a local artist with a political bent decided to remind Richmond’s residents that the city’s past extends beyond the Confederate heroes that line this prominent street.
On the Stonewall Jackson monument is Gabriel.
“Blacksmith, slave, educated man, Gabriel sought liberty and an end to slavery with a large-scale rebellion in the city of Richmond during the summer of 1800. His plot was exposed and he was hanged along with 24 other slaves.”
On the Jefferson Davis monument is Barbara Johns, whose portrait is in the State Capitol building.
“As a sixteen-year-old in Farmville, VA John’s led a student strike in 1951 to protest racial segregation in her school. The resulting lawsuit became part of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision ending segregation…”
On the J.E.B. Stuart monument are Mildred and Richard Loving.
“Interracial married couple, the Lovings were arrested and convicted in 1959, VA of miscegenation. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 ruled in favor of the right for all Americans to have interracial marriages.”
As I’ve stated countless times on this blog, I have no patience for people who deface our public monuments. At one time I may have been sympathetic with this type of alteration, but today there are numerous monuments and historical markers around the city that showcase its rich black past, including the Civil Rights Memorial located on the grounds of the state capital. Like I said, I get it, but it just doesn’t have the same effect.
Here is another story concerning the public display of the Confederate flag, this time in the former capital of the Confederacy of Richmond, Virginia. A small, but dedicated group is protesting the removal of a Confederate flag from the grounds of the Confederate War Memorial Chapel, which sits on ground owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The chapel was at one point part of a camp for Confederate veterans, known as Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1, also known as the “Old Soldiers’ Home.” In 1993 permission was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the VMFA to lease the building, which is when, as I understand it, the Confederate flag first went up. In 2010 the lease was renewed with the stipulation that the flag be removed on the grounds of research done by museum staff showing that the flag had never been displayed when the building was in use by Confederate veterans. The following local report adds some context:
This video was done by a couple of students at D.S. Freeman High School in Richmond, Virginia as part of a school wide discussion centered on whether they should get rid of their “Rebel” mascot. The video offers a nice overview of the school’s history and includes a number of interviews with students and teachers. Well done.