Saturday, June 27, 2015

It’s time for Confederate monuments to come down - RTD column by Michael Paul Williams.

Image from Style Weekly, 8/6/2013, photo by Scott Elmquist. The original caption: "Last year, hundreds of Confederate sympathizers descended on the Robert E. Lee statue Saturday afternoon, bemoaning Lincoln and the Northern “invasion” of the South."

Read Michael Paul Williams column from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2015 10:30 pm:


So now we have your attention.

It shouldn’t have taken an act of terror — the slaughter of nine black people by a white supremacist in a Charleston, S.C., church — for anyone to realize the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of oppression and hate. No one should have needed those images of mass-murder suspect Dylann Roof holding that flag, which flew unlowered on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse even after the slayings.

We shouldn’t have needed more blood, sweat and tears to arrive at this point. The flag has long been a set piece for racial bigotry.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the removal of the flag from the commemorative license plates of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But truth and reconciliation apparently have their limits. Already, decisive action has given way to mealy-mouthed pronouncements.

“I am sticking just with the license plates because I do think that is a message that is so hurtful, that flag, to folks,” McAuliffe told MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Wednesday.

But not statues. I mean, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, these are all parts of our heritage,” he said. “And the people that were in that battle, the Civil War, many of them were in it obviously for their own reasons that they had for that. But leave the statues and those things alone.”

The flag is hurtful, but not the general and president who led the cause it represents? That logic doesn’t hold. But in Richmond, for too long, we have preserved monuments to our delusion.

Having an open and honest conversation about what those monuments mean, and whether they have a place in an evolved, freedom-loving society, remains a lost cause. Leave those statues alone.

“This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War,” former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“The Confederate battle flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades,” he said. “It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.”

That flag is inherently divisive and racist — after all, it was carried into war against the Union by a Confederacy intent on preserving chattel slavery based on race. And it made a comeback in the not-so-recent 1950s, when Georgia incorporated the symbol into its state flag in defiance to desegregation before removing it in 2001.

The banner McAuliffe would purge from Virginia license plates cannot be so easily separated from the men who fought for the Confederacy. Nor can the Confederate battle flag be divorced from its links to Jim Crow, hate groups, and European skinheads and neo-Nazis.

I’ve heard ad nauseam that the flag is about heritage, not hate. But the presumption that the heritage in question is neutral and without stain reflects the pervasive evasions surrounding this issue. It’s not as complicated as Webb would lead you to believe.

The perpetuation of slavery as an institution was a central tenet of the Confederate constitution, which stipulated that no law “denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Alexander H. Stephens, who served as vice president of the Confederate States during the Civil War, said of the newly established Confederate government: “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man. That slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his normal condition.”

Can you imagine the terror felt by black Richmonders, less than a generation into their emancipation, upon witnessing the 1890 unveiling of the mammoth statue of Robert E. Lee?

The veneration of Confederates — at monuments, schools, roadways and military installations — shows that our city, state and even our nation have not been moved to remorse, much less contrition. How is true reconciliation even possible?

Our reverence for those who fought to keep a race of people subjugated should make for some interesting questions from international visitors when we host the UCI Road World Championships in September.

Of course, Virginia is not alone in lionizing the dubious. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. — site of the vicious police assault on nonviolent protesters during the civil rights movement — still bears the name of the former Confederate general and onetime grand wizard of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

You could argue that the flags and monuments have no tangible bearing on our lives, for better or worse. Or perhaps they reflect that old attitudes, like old soldiers, die hard.

It’s no accident that of the 11 states that constituted the Confederacy, only one — Arkansas — has expanded Medicaid coverage to poor residents without health insurance, with black people disproportionately affected by the coverage gap.

Look, purging racist symbols from our landscape won’t eliminate racism any more than electing an African-American president made us a post-racial society. Police will still shoot unarmed black people. The so-called Land of the Free will still lead the world in mass incarceration. Black unemployment will remain stubbornly double that of whites; the wealth gap between blacks and whites will expand.

But what happened in Charleston should make clear that these symbols are unworthy of protection and state support outside of a museum.

Every day, in Richmond, those monuments demand that we turn the other cheek, or even confer tribute to the men on those pedestals through tax dollars. Would Richmond tolerate taxpayer-supported monuments to black supremacy? It asks a lot of our African-American citizenry to accept these statues as immutable.

I had hoped that the inclusion of true freedom fighters on that boulevard would lend balance and context to Monument Avenue. That hasn’t happened beyond the relatively small Arthur Ashe statue, and given the size and scale of the Confederate monuments, it seems unlikely that it ever will.

But if we allow ourselves to honestly contemplate the meaning of Monument Avenue, we must acknowledge that it sends a message incompatible with 21st-century values. The rewrite of history embodied by those statues cannot change this, and I can no longer reconcile their outsize presence in the city of my birth. Let’s place these statues in a proper museum setting and replace them with monuments we all can embrace.

As the savage act in Charleston demonstrates, we struggle to shed the skin of racism and forge a community based on justice, equality and mutual respect.

The Jefferson Davis monument was vandalized with “Black Lives Matter” graffiti, and I don’t condone defacing public property. But the statues on Monument Avenue send the unequivocal message that our lives don’t matter — not then and not now. It’s time for them to come down.



What do you think?  I think Mr. Williams is right. I've thought for years that there was no way those monuments will be around in 50 years. Imagine being African American living in this city and seeing those monuments day after day in Richmond.  Why not taken them down now? Place them outside the city in a park - call it  the "Men who fought for the slavery nation of the Confederate States of America" park.
 - Ray B

No comments: