The City of Charlottesville, Virginia, is still mired in controversy by an earlier decision to eliminate a nearly 100-year-old statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city’s Lee Park — so much so that a commission to address the issue was convened.
During the discussion, some residents said the election of Donald Trump proves racism is alive and well and that the city needs to “transform” its history to conform to a Black Lives Matter ideology.
After the city council’s early February vote to remove the General Lee statue from the city park it has occupied for nearly 100 years, supporters and opponents of the move erupted in the town of 44,000 some people.
The decision to dump the Lee statue and a separate statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson elsewhere in the city did not quell the controversy. With the fight raging over the decision to remove the statues, the city council convened a commission to consider a different approach. A preliminary report was read to a town meeting on February 9.
During the meeting, many were unhappy with the initial decision to whitewash the town’s Confederate history, but others insisted the decision to excise all mentions of the Confederacy was the right move to make in today’s political climate.
According to the Charlottesville Daily Progressive, some in the meeting proclaimed that racism and “white nationalism” is alive and well because of the election of Donald J. Trump to the White House.
University of Virginia professor Jalane Schmidt spoke at the meeting saying it is “unconscionable” to have Confederate markers and statues despite the town’s deep civil war era history. The professor said the town should eliminate the memorials to people who “fought to dissolve our nation, maintain slavery and withhold citizenship for black Americans,” the paper reported.
The professor also suggested that the town’s history should better reflect the current black lives matter trend of historical revisionism.
“The Confederate statues need to be moved so that history can be publicly retold and physically represented so that we can change our history’s narrative around race,” the professor said.
The initial report of the committee, some of which Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy read to those in attendance, presented several recommendations aimed at keeping the statues where they stand but reimagining local history to “transform” it to focus on segregation, black poverty, and the over-policing of the African-American community.
Some of the recommendations were as follows:
- Encourage and support the teaching the history of slavery and impact of racism in African-American and Native American history classes for local public schools
- Designate March 3 as “Liberation Day” or “Freedom Day” to commemorate when the Union Army marched into Charlottesville in 1865
- Urge the city to participate in the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice by displaying a memorial marking the lynching of John Henry James to “confront the truth and terror of white supremacy in the Jim Crow era
- Sponsor local history research by local institutions, such as the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society
- Develop a strategic plan to “intentionally address issues of race and equity.”
Earlier in the month, Councilor Bellamy announced that the city will now recognize March 3 as “Liberation and Freedom Day” to memorialize the day in 1865 when the Union Army entered the city.
Bellamy has raised eyebrows before with his antics over “racism.” Last October Bellamy called for a boycott of a local restaurant owned by University of Virginia professor Douglas Muir after Muir posted a message to social media insisting that the extremism and violence of the black lives matter movement made it “the biggest racist organization since the clan.”
Bellamy also caused a stir with a series of tweets filled with hateful comments about white people and gay slurs, according to The Cavalier Daily, an independent newspaper at the University of Virginia.
The city official lost his job as a high school teacher and was dumped from the Virginia State Board of Education after the tweets were discussed in the media.
Bellamy also has an arrest record from his home state of South Carolina as well as arrests in Charlottesville.
Supporters of the city’s history recently set up a Facebook page to save the Lee statue and are organizing to oppose the whitewashing of local history.
The city boasts a rich history as the home of founding father Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. But it also has deep connections to civil war history, with factories that produced arms for the Confederacy; a local battle called the nearby Battle of Rio Hill; and its strategic location during the last portion of the war as federal forces invaded the region, leading to the siege of Petersburg, the fall of Richmond, and General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
The State of Virginia still celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May (May 29 in 2017).
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.