RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The debate over the Confederate monuments can become an emotional one, so NBC12 reached out to the American Civil War Museum in Richmond to ask the museum CEO, Christy Coleman, to give us some insight.
As the country tries to comprehend the tragedy in Charlottesville and the controversy surrounding the Confederate monuments, the American Civil War Museum is expanding and says their work is now more important than ever.
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"What we put on the wall, or the artifact that we put in a case, helps us understand these things and helps us view them in a completely different way," says Coleman.
For Coleman, the last week has been tough.
"I try to be a voice of reason, of calm in a storm, where there are a lot of voices shouting right now," she said.
She has dedicated her career to explaining the complexities of a war that divided, then unified a nation, and still strikes an emotional chord with people today.
NBC12 asked her about the man at the center of the controversy: General Robert E. Lee.
Was he a slaveholder?
"Absolutely. He did not have as many slaves as his wife did, but he was responsible for their management," says Coleman. "He is authorizing physical punishment and he, you know, was sustaining his family and his wealth, and what remained of their wealth was due to the labor of the enslaved people who were part of his household."
Why did he fight for the South?
"He is a man, like many, [who] felt that his allegiance was first to his home state," says Coleman. "Now, there are a number of reasons why people thought that. One of the biggest was that Virginia was founded in 1607 - the United States was founded in 1776."
Coleman adds there were Virginians who fought for the United States, and there were slaveholders who fought for the union.
Did General Lee want a monument in his image?
"He wrote about it. He did not think it was a good idea. He certainly didn't want one for him," she said. "He spent a great deal of time wanting to bring the nation back together, but he also wanted to do it under certain terms."
With the debate now focused on what to do with the Confederate monuments, Coleman suggests: "We just have to breathe a little bit and think about what are we really looking for as we move forward."
Coleman also suggests that people reach out to local groups that focus on inclusiveness and equality. Then she encourages people to visit the many museums in the Richmond area to learn about our history.
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