Taking down Richmond’s monument to Robert E. Lee

Why does Virginia have so many monuments to a lost cause? If we take them down, let's please also take away the racism they represent.
The statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond: Site of protests and protesters.

Press reports Wednesday say Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is ready to order the removal of the 64-foot statue and base of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from his site in the middle of Monument Avenue in Richmond and hide it somewhere in storage.

Cheers emerged from the thousands of protestors gathered around the edifice Wednesday night in the sixth straight day of marches and protests in The Old Dominions capital city as part of protests across the nation over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis where the officers involved were first fired and now charged with his murder.

Howls from the other side of the issue of whether or not icons of the Confederacy should still stand in today’s America are sure to start. The statue of Lee has stood in Richmond since 1890 as an icon of a lost cause that threatened our nation and is now considered a too-obvious monument to slavery and racism by many.

As Southern-born and raised, I have long advocated removal of such statues and other public remembrances of what America had been and should never become again. Racism, in my opinion, remains as a violent undercurrent in today’s American society.

I saw it in the 1950s as a youngster in Farmville, VA, when a racist school board and supervisors closed in Prince Edward County closed the public schools and started a local government controled all-white “private school” that left the students with dark skin tones without a school or way to get an education.

I covered ralies by the Klan in Franklin County, VA, as a young reporter for The Roanoke Times. In Roanoke in 1968, I covered protests on the streets when a lone white assassin gunned down Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis.

By accident, my next newspaper job came a year later in Alton, IL, the birthplace of James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of King, who later recanted his confession. Some in Alton, including many racists, believed Ray was “a fall guy” for King’s death.

We see racism today with a president in the Oval Office in Washington who has the strong public support of white supremacists and tells state governments to “dominate” protests by those upset with another killing of a black citizen by white police officers.

Hate crimes against African Americans and other minorities have increased dramatically in recent years as white militants with AR-style rifles gun down black parishioners in South Carolina, jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh or Mexicans in a Walmart in Texas.

The murderer of blacks in South Carolina proudly displayed a Confederate flag on his Facebook page and on his pickup truck. That led the governor of South Carolina to convince the state legislature to remove the rebel flag that had flown over the statehouse for 54 years.

So, is it time to bring down the monument to Lee in Richmond? Yes, I think it is, along with the other confederate statues along Monument Avenue, which I understand is planned by the Richmond government after July 1, when changes in state laws give local governments such rights.

But none of this matters unless we also bury the racism that such monuments represent.

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