It finally happened. I don’t know if Virginia Governor Ralph Northam waited for April, which has traditionally been the month when states celebrate Confederate Heritage Month, to sign this bill, but I thank him.
Yesterday, the governor signed a bill that allows communities across the state to decide whether their Confederate monuments still reflect the collective values of its residents.
Northam understands the historical significance of this bill: “Racial discrimination is rooted in many of the choices we have made about who and what to honor, and in many of the laws that have historically governed this Commonwealth. These new laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive, and I am proud to sign them.”
Beginning on July 1, 2020 cities and towns will have the power to “remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities.” They will also have the power to do nothing, if they so choose. That’s the point.
The few communities that have taken steps toward removal, including Charlottesville, Richmond, and Norfolk, have done so carefully by forming committees to study the issue and holding public forums where residents can voice their opinions.
The signing of this bill allows for a conversation that never took place when many of these statues and monuments were first dedicated across Virginia. The vast majority were dedicated during the era of racial disfranchisement across Virginia. As you can see in the map, the problem isn’t that Confederate statues don’t represent the collective values of towns and cities today. The problem is that they never did.