RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The discussion on what to do with the Confederate monuments lining Monument Avenue has the community split. Some vehemently argue to take them down, while others passionately call to keep them up.
Mayor Levar Stoney wants to address both sides, by creating a Monument Avenue Commission.
The Commission has split into four subgroups. The first met on Monday, called the "State of Confederate Memorials Group." It examines what other communities and institutions are doing around the country to address Confederate memorials and monuments.
"There are countless examples. The responsibility of this subgroup is to look at those and make recommendations to the larger commission of those examples that contribute to our mission here," explained Julie Langan, the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and member of the subgroup.
Langan said the group will discuss how cities like Baltimore, New Orleans, Charlottesville, and Norfolk have handled controversial Confederate memorials.
"This is a topic other communities are grappling with, we're not the only ones. So, we will learn from them," she said following the subgroup's first introductory meeting.
On Tuesday, the second group will meet at 10:30 at the Library of Virginia. Called the "Historians Review Group," it will provide additional historical background on existing monuments and information on community-proposed additions to Monument Avenue.
The following day, the third subgroup dubbed 'New Monuments and Interpretation Group' will consider the question 'if monuments are added, where can they best be erected and interpreted?' It will also explore interpretive options.
That conversation will take place on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Department of Historic Resources.
Later that afternoon, the fourth group will meet at the Black History Museum. This last group is called the 'Community Engagement Group' and will establish rules for community engagement and how the public sessions should be structured.
Those public meetings will then be held on Wednesday, August 2 and August 9. Both will take place at the Virginia Historical Society located at 428 N Boulevard and will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice &Equality are calling on the Commission to do the following before the first public hearing:
- Publicly declare that taking down the statues is one of the options to be considered
- Invite Richmonders who have already called for the statues to be removed to be on the Commission
- Invite the Mayor of New Orleans to speak on why his city has taken down Confederate monuments.
"Put these statues in a museum. Not on public land maintained by my tax dollars for a statue that represents something that I hate with every fiber of my being," expressed Phil Wilayto with the Virginia Defenders.
Wilayto believes the solution is simple; remove the monuments.
"As long as this statue is up, we are telling the rest of the world that Richmond thinks Robert E Lee was a pretty cool fellow and the cause he fought for was noble," added Wilayto.
While Wilayto refers to that cause as being supportive of slavery and racism, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans disagree.
Frank Earnest with the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans says Lee's cause was noble, and not steeped in racism.
"The only time he owned slaves was when he inherited them from his Father-in-Law. You couldn't help if someone gave you something. He made sure those slaves had a trade so they could support themselves when they were emancipated," said Earnest.
He added that Lee should be celebrated for all he did for Virginia.
"General Lee gave up his military career, his home, everything he had to defend the state of Virginia and now Virginia wants to turn its back on him and others who did that," expressed Earnest.
The Defenders argue history should be left in a museum and not displayed on a prominent city street. Earnest counters that argument by saying museums aren't defined by four walls and that Monument Avenue serves that purpose.
"If people are looking at these beautiful monuments and see something evil, the evil is in the eye of the beholder," said Earnest. He added, "instead of bringing in these so-called historians, maybe they should call in a board of psychologists."
The Monument Avenue Commission's website can be found here.
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