Historic or Heinous? | Virginia leadership seeks removal of Confederate statues

Virginia officials are calling for the removal of Confederate statues around the Commonwealth following a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left three dead and dozens injured.

In response, VCU President Michael Rao announced an audit to determine any symbols of the Confederacy, slavery or white supremacy that may exist at the university and what the future of these items may be.

“Senior leadership is engaged at every level, starting at the top with me, regarding safety, security and social climate issues,” Rao stated. “Throughout this process, we will be guided by the core values of our university community, which include commitments to inclusion, free speech and civil discourse.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney created the Monument Avenue Commission in June and tasked them to collect public input and complete a truthful narrative about the statues. This will also include an examination of removing or relocating the Confederate statues. In a statement, Stoney called the statues “offensive” and argued to have them removed.

“While we had hoped to use this process to educate Virginians about the history behind these monuments, the events of the last week may have fundamentally changed our ability to do so by revealing their power to serve as a rallying point for division and intolerance and violence,” Stoney stated.

According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Governor Terry McAuliffe said that although he does not have the authority to remove the Lee statue on Monument Avenue, he will “most likely” seek legislation in the Commonwealth’s General Assembly to have the statue taken down.

The Lee statue, like many others, is state-owned. The Republican- majority Virginia General Assembly said they do not support the removal of Confederate statues.

In addition, any legislation McAuliffe sends through the general assembly will have to be signed by Virginia’s next elected governor.

The Democratic nominee for Virginia’s governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, said he agrees with McAuliffe’s position and advocates for the statue’s relocation to museums. However, his campaign also said they would leave the issue to local authority.

Republican nominee Ed Gillespie also favors the control of the monuments to be left to local officials, but personally believes the statues should remain in place with provided context.

However, there is confusion about what authority localities have to remove Confederate monuments.

A law exists forbidding cities to interfere with any war memorial. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for state lawmakers to amend this law, remove funding for the maintenance of the statues and start a public discussion on where they should be relocated.

The ACLU released a statement in support of the governor.

“Regardless of origin or historical context, today they (Confederate statues) are inciteful symbols of hatred and bigotry to which white supremacists are drawn like moths to a flame,” the statement read.

Charlie Schmidt, the public policy associate for the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, said that regardless of any historical context, the statues are symbols of hate and bigotry.

I’ve always found it ridiculous to erect monuments to losers. Nowhere else, nor under any other context would we memorialize the losing side of a conflict in such a manner,” Schmidt said. “Why did we? Well, the answer seems obvious — to try to maintain white supremacy in the South.”

SaraRose Martin

Staff Writer

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