Richmond, Virginia, To Fact-Check Fake News (On Confederate Monuments)
Mayor Levar Stoney (L), some dead guy on a horse (R)
Now that New Orleans has cleaned out the last of four major monuments to the Confederacy (plenty of street names and other reminders of the Bad Old Days remain), Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Virginia, is going to try a somewhat different approach to pro-Confederate statues and monuments that were built during Reconstruction to reassert white supremacy. Stoney wants to turn them into more accurate history lessons, if at all possible.
The statues and memorials along Richmond's Monument Avenue were mostly erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of a wave of historical revisionism across the South, redefining the Civil War as a noble "Lost Cause" and deliberately erasing the roots of secession in the effort to preserve and spread slavery. (Hey, visitors! If you're here to claim secession wasn't about slavery, your comments may vanish, but they'll probably return in Sunday's "Dear ShitFerBrains.") Mayor Stoney has no illusion about why the monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and others are there:
“Equal parts myth and deception, (the statues) were the ‘alternative facts’ of their time -- a false narrative etched in stone and bronze more than 100 years ago -- not only to lionize the architects and defenders of slavery, but to perpetuate the tyranny and terror of Jim Crow and reassert a new era of white supremacy,” Stoney said.
“It is my belief that without telling the whole story, these monuments have become a default endorsement of that shameful period -- one that does a disservice to the principles of racial equality, tolerance and unity we celebrate.”
Stoney also said the monuments are "nostalgia masquerading as history,” but won't attempt to remove them: "I wish these monuments had never been built, but whether we like it or not, they are part of the history of our city. And removal would never wash away that stain," he said.
And considering Richmond's status as the former Confederate capital, it might result in endless lawsuits and controversy. Instead, Stoney is establishing a commission to come up with recommendations for how to add signage and perhaps additional monuments to put the old dead Confederates in their proper place (for our money, that would be a grave, or maybe a Museum of Bad Ideas). The co-chairs of the Monument Avenue Commission will be Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and Greg Kimball, the director of Education and Outreach for the Library of Virginia.
Stoney has faith in the power of education and doing history right:
"The best way to change hearts is to educate minds," he said. "It is my belief that without telling the whole story, these monuments constitute a default endorsement of a shameful period in our nation and our city"
'Alt-right' wingnuts had a hunka-hunka burnin' love for a Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia. Their ardor was soon extinguished.
"I'm just as insulted by those statues as anyone else. But what I'm most insulted by is the fact that those statues currently stand up there without telling an ounce of the truth," said Stoney.
So, no, he's not fooled by the "heritage not hate" bullshit. Not that it's keeping the bullshitters quiet -- they oppose any effort to suggest there's any kind of "context" to a bunch of statues put in place to lionize the Confederacy, heavens no, according to B. Frank Earnest Sr., a spokesdick for Virginia's chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He vows to fight any efforts to place the sacred statues in context:
“All you have to do is go back and look and you’ll see they were dedicated for exactly the reason one would think: commemorations of people who sacrificed in the war,” Earnest said. “Not some silliness about Jim Crow and trying to bring back slavery or whatever silliness they think it is.
“So absolutely we oppose it on the basis that it’s opinion, not historical fact.”
Strange, though -- in 1890, when the Robert E. Lee statue went up, John Mitchell Jr., who edited a prominent black newspaper in Richmond and even served as a city alderman, seemed to have a pretty good idea of what that statue was all about:
“The men who talk most about the valor of LEE, and the blood of the brave Confederate dead are those who never smelt powder or engaged in the battle,” he wrote in 1890. “Most of them were at a table, either on top or under it when the war was going on.” The proliferation of Lost Cause adornments throughout Richmond angered Mitchell, who was born into slavery. He insisted that a Lee statue would bequeath to the future a “legacy of treason and blood.”
Gosh, looks like Political Correctness has a time machine. Mitchell also pointed out the bitter irony of the statue's pedestal having been built by black laborers, and hoped that some day the same men would be able to take it down.
That's the sort of thing that could go on a historical plaque near the Lee statue, perhaps. And next to it, a statue of John Mitchell Jr.
Ms. Coleman, the co-chair of the commission, also said that while Stoney doesn't want any of the statues removed, it's also possible that after the public comment period and two public meetings, if the overall consensus is for removal, the commission would say so:
“There are individuals who would love to blow them up right now,” Coleman said. “But as a public historian, I think there is an opportunity to talk about them more deeply. That’s already happening on bus tours and walking tours, but for the casual visitor, that doesn’t happen. Hopefully we’ll be able to come up with the language that is respectful.”
Fine, fine. We won't submit our suggestion to have the whole street renamed "Avenue of the Losers." Besides, since Richmond added (with great controversy) a statue of Arthur Ashe, that name wouldn't entirely fit.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.