In Charlottesville to Talk History, Memory, and Monuments

This is my second trip to Charlottesville, Virginia in recent months to work with teachers and the community on how to understand and teach the history and memory of its Confederate monuments. In June I co-led a tour and delivered a talk to a group of educators. Yesterday, I spent ninety minutes with a group of roughly twenty-five teachers at Charlottesville High School and today I will spend some time with another group of educators at the Jefferson School.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to return to my former home to do this work. I want to thank Dr. Andrea Douglas, who is the executive director of the Jefferson School and Dr. Jalane Schmidt of UVA for making this possible. Their commitment and passion is infectious. I have always maintained that regardless of whether the monuments are removed or relocated the city will find a way to move forward. Andrea and Jalane are committed to engaging as many residents of the city and county as possible.

Their efforts to commemorate the 1898 lynching of John Henry James over the summer is a wonderful example of how the most difficult history can be faced honestly and embraced as a way to bring people together.

The commemorative landscape here in Charlottesville is going to expand and deepen. A memorial to enslaved workers at the University of Virginia will be completed as well as a memorial for the historic black community at Vinegar Hill.

This is certainly a welcome development, but it will be incomplete without doing the hard work of bringing people together to talk through this difficult history and hopefully arrive at some understanding and common ground.

One thing is for certain, this community is in good hands.

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“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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7 comments… add one
  • Darick Sep 26, 2018 @ 8:31

    Because it is not what he wanted for himself or for the memorial of the war. In his writings, Lee cited multiple reasons for opposing such monuments, questioning the cost of a potential Stonewall Jackson monument, for example. But underlying it all was one rationale: That the war had ended, and the South needed to move on and avoid more upheaval.

    Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

    Lee believed countries that erased visible signs of civil war recovered from conflicts quicker. He was worried that by keeping these symbols alive, it would keep the divisions alive.

    He was right and this is why I think it matters.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 26, 2018 @ 13:03

      What I am suggesting is that Lee doesn’t deserve to be given a monopoly on what forms of Confederate commemoration are appropriate.

  • Darick Sep 24, 2018 @ 12:27

    Great read Kevin!

    Our country is in a tailspin downward and our current political climate has created such an environment, which appears to be spiraling out of control and sad.

    What would help is EDUCATION! What a lot of these people fail to realize is that Lee, NEVER wanted monuments of himself erected. Educators need to be more proactive in sharing this information.

    If my Great (3x) Grandfather is to have a monument, it should state his truth, not what his racist family members and the uneducated want him portrayed as.

    -Just my opinion.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 24, 2018 @ 12:29

      Thanks for the comment, but I am still not sure why it matters what Lee believed to be an appropriate form of Confederate commemoration.

  • Billy Wetherington Sep 22, 2018 @ 6:22

    Politics has helped re-open the old wounds of slavery and its Jim Crow successors. The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s seem mostly to have temporarily quieted down the white supremacists of the USA. Now they are re-asserting their racism, bigotry and fear. Will the Hard Reconstruction that some thought was needed after the Civil War finally happen or will the USA re-assert its racist/slavery driven foundation and the Confederacy finally wins the war.

  • James Harrigan Sep 22, 2018 @ 3:15

    One thing is for certain, this community is in good hands.

    I wish I agreed with you Kevin, but in the long run I think we’ll be OK. August 11/12 will always be part of our history, but I have my concerns about how what happened on those days is being interpreted and framed by some voices in the community.

    The continued presence of Lee and Jackson in our downtown is an open wound, and represents an ongoing victory for the white supremacists who attacked our town and their neo-confederate sympathizers. I’m excited about the new monuments going up, especially the slavery memorial at UVa, but Lee and Jackson still need to go.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 22, 2018 @ 3:25

      I appreciate the perspective.

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