So, when I “wore a younger man’s clothes” I was a grad student in Richmond working on a degree and as a seasonal and part-time ranger for the Richmond National Battlefield Park. For some extra money, I took a job one day-per-week giving bus tours to tourists, visiting the major sites and battlefields around Richmond. Monument Avenue was of course the centerpiece of the tour, so I have visited and given interpretation of the monuments there many, many times.
I watched online today as the process of taking down the statues began. Honestly, even though we’ve known this was coming, I am feeling kind of stunned. Too stunned to have anything profound or interesting to say about it.
Today’s target was Stonewall Jackson. I’m guessing the others will soon follow. Where they are going is unclear for now, except that they will be stored somewhere until all the legal and financial matters connected with their removal can be worked out.
I’ve been on record in the past as favoring the contextualization of these and other rebel monuments, but as I indicated in a recent post, I think that ship has sailed. I now believe these things have got to continuing coming down from their places of honor. And I have enjoyed watching it happen.
Still, I think they should not be destroyed or hidden away forever. I’d love to see them eventually re-emerge at historic sites or places where they can be brought down off their pedestals (literally and figuratively) and interpreted.
I doubt it’ll ever happen, but I think there would be real value in interpreting these statues, from the cultural forces of the Lost Cause movement that erected them, to the cultural forces of the Black Lives Matter movement that got them dismantled. That’s a darn good and important story to tell.
In my mind’s eye, I see the Lee statue (not on a pedestal) out on the Malvern Hill battlefield, (site of where his characteristically aggressive battlefield tactics led to the slaughter of thousands of Confederate soldiers in a doomed assault). J.E.B Stuart and Jefferson Davis would fit nicely near their graves in Hollywood cemetery. I see Stonewall, at his death site, which is preserved and interpreted by the National Park Service, or perhaps behind his home in Lexington, Virginia.
Perhaps one day.
But for now, I’m going to be stuck with the image of a large crowd that watched and cheered, and endured a steady rainstorm as Stonewall was lifted off his pedestal. It was definitely surreal that the rain began almost at the moment when Jackson was lifted, and it thundered as he was brought down to applause.
Once he was down, most of the crowd headed home to get dry. But there was a young rain soaked black woman berating folks for leaving before Jackson was hauled away. A local news crew caught her on camera as she shouted, “They said we couldn’t accomplish anything with these protests. Well, just look! And I’m staying out here until this is finished, because my ancestors were out here picking cotton, even in the rain. They didn’t have the option to go up to the big house to get dry!”
And suddenly I am reminded, that in all those bus tours I gave on Monument Avenue, I never once had a black passenger.