Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Readers have their say about new monuments -- column of Aug. 6, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this space about the opportunity cities and towns in the South have as they weigh moving Confederate monuments from streets and parks to museums.  

If cities relocate the statues, as I believe some will, they then can move on to consider new monuments that reflect modern sensibilities. Surely, 150 years after the Civil War we can think beyond the bronze hero on a horse and find other men – and women – whose accomplishments and stories we want to pass to future generations.

Traditionally in this country we have memorialized presidents, generals and victims of disasters. In the 21st century we can widen our horizons and honor the artists, athletes, composers, entrepreneurs, explorers, scientists, writers and others who have contributed to America’s rich cultural history.

I asked readers to email me their answers to the question: To whom – or what – would you like to see a monument in your community? Today I share your ideas.

This is nothing close to a scientific sample, but several people who wrote me objected to my guess that a year from now we’ll find more Confederate statues in museums and fewer in streets and parks. They made it clear they want the Confederate statues to stay right where they are, thank you.

“We are remembering our Confederate ancestors who fought in a long and brutal war for a wide range of reasons – and not necessarily for slavery,” a reader from Richmond, Va. , wrote.

He insisted that Confederate memorials are no more backward-looking or divisive than memorials to black soldiers who fought for the Union.

“`Moving on,’ as you recommend, should not mean taking down or hiding away all things Confederate. Rather it should mean constructively adding to that national memory and narrative – not destructively subtracting from it,” he said.

Another reader wrote: “I don’t want to change my American history. For better or worse, it is what it is. You want to add to it, fine.”

Neither offered any names for new monuments. One even defied me to find a leader “who doesn’t lie to us every other day. Someone who cares about this country and not his party. I cannot.”

Whoa.  The last thing we need is a monument to a living politician.  

But my correspondents raise an excellent point. Even if Confederate statues stay in place, this is a good time to consider adding to the mix of outdoor memorials.

A supporter of a proposed Fallen Heroes Monument in Richmond told me about a campaign by local veterans to honor on Monument Avenue the collective sacrifice of Richmond’s citizens in foreign wars. 

While many other communities have memorials commemorating the generations that have answered the call to military service overseas, Richmond does not.

First, though, supporters need funds and approval to build the monument.  

Most Confederate monuments were paid originally by private funds. In our time, too, individuals are stepping up to contribute.

For example, in New York’s Central Park, there are 22 statues honoring men but not one honors a woman. Instead, there are statues of fictional characters -- Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, Juliet (with Romeo) and various nymphs and angels. A fundraising campaign is underway to build a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, along with other pioneers of women’s rights. 

Several readers suggested a monument honoring Maggie L. Walker, the Virginia civil rights activist and entrepreneur. Walker was the first African-American woman to found and be president of a bank. Her childhood home in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service.

Walker deserves “a statue or some sort of memorial, if not on Monument Avenue, then in a prominent place,” wrote one woman, who called the Confederate statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue “great examples of civic art of the times” they were built.

“I don’t want the city to spend any money removing them but if private groups want to do this, I’d enjoy a discussion of this idea,” she said.

And she proposed something we all may be able to agree on that could be done soon: Rename Jefferson Davis Highway, as parts of U.S. Route 1 through the South are called.  

“If another name is needed, how about Reconciliation Highway?” she said. It’s a good start. 

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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