Thursday, June 4, 2020

A monumental step toward healing -- June 4, 2020 column

In a week of peaceful protests, violent riots and widespread looting, the removal Tuesday of a Confederate monument in Alexandria may seem almost inconsequential.
No one was hurt or died, and the “Appomattox” monument – nicknamed “Appy” – wasn’t defaced or toppled. It was scheduled for removal next month, anyway. The Washington Post tucked the news on page B-4 of Wednesday’s paper.
But Appy’s sudden exit was a sign the long-simmering controversy over Confederate symbols had finally boiled over.
Sorrowful Appy depicted not a general in full military regalia on his steed but an unarmed Confederate soldier, standing, head bowed, arms crossed over his chest, hat in hand, facing the battlefields to the South where his comrades had fallen.
The monument at a busy intersection in Old Town commemorated the place where Alexandrians assembled to join the fight against the Union. It was not erected until a quarter century after the Civil War ended, a time many Southerners were eager to glorify the Confederacy.
Cities and towns have been taking down Confederate memorials since a white supremacist killed nine black worshippers at a South Carolina church in 2015.
The trend gathered steam in 2017 after white supremacists staged a rally in Charlottesville to protest a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The demonstration led to one person’s death and the injuries of 19 others.
After the killing of George Floyd, who was black, May 25 in Minneapolis while in the custody of a white cop, protesters took to the streets around the country to demand justice and an end to police brutality.
Landmark monuments became a prime destination for protesters to gather and as targets of graffiti and destruction. In Washington, ugly words were inexplicably spray-painted on the Lincoln Memorial and the National World War II Memorial.
In at least half a dozen cities, demonstrators congregating at Confederate memorials painted “BLM” for “Black Lives Matter,” and other slogans and expletives on some memorials and destroyed others.
After demonstrators in Birmingham, Ala., pulled down one Confederate monument and defaced anothe, while attempting to bring it down, the mayor pleaded to be allowed to “finish the job for you.”
The city Tuesday removed the 52-foot Confederate Sailors and Soldiers Monument obelisk.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns Appy, decided to move it  early after protesters last weekend vandalized the group’s headquarters in Richmond and set a fire there. Protesters also covered Richmond’s Confederate monuments with graffiti.
The Daughters notified the city of Alexandria Monday they would take down the statue the next day.
Now, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed a bill in April allowing localities to remove monuments from public property, plans to remove the soaring Lee monument in Richmond.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, saying the city is no longer the capital of the Confederacy, wants to remove the four other monuments to Confederate leaders along Monument Avenue.
The big news about Richmond’s memorials made the Post’s frontpage Thursday.
Many consider Confederate monuments a symbol of the oppression and subjugation of blacks, while others consider the memorials a part of their history and heritage.
President Donald Trump, allying himself with the latter, tweeted in 2017: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
Those who find the monuments hurtful and hateful often quote Lee, who favored reconciliation and was no fan of war memorials.
“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feels it engendered,” Lee wrote.
And so, more than 150 years after the Civil War ended, the battle over Confederate monuments appears to have reached a tipping point.
Future Americans surely will see fewer Confederate symbols on busy city streets. But what will happen to these monuments?
In Alexandria, the Daughters have not said where Appy was taken or what’s planned.
Often there is no plan, and monuments get crated and stored in warehouses.
Authorities should try to find Confederate monuments final resting places in museums and Confederate cemeteries. That would be a monumental step forward.
©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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