Now That Charlottesville Can Remove Monuments, Should It?

By David Swanson

News reports proclaim that the Governor of Virginia has signed into law a bill allowing localities in Virginia to remove Confederate statues. In reality, this new law allows Virginia cities and counties to remove, alter, or relocate any war monuments – something Virginia law had forbidden for 15 wars, including the U.S. Civil War.

The law up until now fairly clearly did not apply to several war monuments in the City of Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia in Albemarle County, which encircles Charlottesville. It arguably did not apply to any of them. But the new law erases any doubts. Charlottesville and UVA can now act without any legal concern, should they choose to.

The State of Virginia is itself acting, having finally decided to replace its statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol. (If Lee cannot be replaced with a monument to a movement or an ideal, and must be replaced with a monument to an individual, I nominate Barbara Johns.) If Charlottesville doesn’t act now, it will not only lack the excuse that the state is forbidding it. It will be failing to do what the state is itself doing.

So what should Charlottesville and UVA and Albemarle do? In my own humble opinion, this:

  1. Take the George Rogers Clark monument that depicts and celebrates genocide – the one that welcomes visitors to the University of Virginia – and relocate and contextualize it. One idea for a place to move it to would be the vicinity of the Lewis and Clark Museum in Darden Towe Park. Another would be a History of UVA Museum on UVA’s campus, something UVA could construct. In its new location, this monstrosity should be displayed along with an explanation of the historic events depicted, the origin of the monument (who paid for it, who decided to put it up, what was said at its dedication), and the reasons for relocating it.
  2. At the former location of the George Rogers Clark monument erect a memorial to the native peoples of this region and of the empire of Virginia that Clark was heralded for conquering.
  3. Take the monuments to Lee and Jackson that dominate downtown and relocate them to a park where they can be properly contextualized as in item #1 above. One possibility would be the IX Park where local artists could contribute to telling more of and a more honest story.
  4. Where Lee was, commission and create a memorial to the horror of slavery.
  5. Where Jackson was, commission and create a monument to the ongoing Civil Rights Movement.
  6. Take the monument to Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea – which the City has already said it will move – and move it to a new location and properly contextualize it as in item #1 above. The obvious new location would be the Lewis and Clark Museum.
  7. Where Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea were, commission and create a monument to peace activism and to Charlottesville’s Sister Cities.
  8. Take the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial and commission designs for adding a memorial to the millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian men, women, and children killed by that war.
  9. In Riverview Park, commission and create a monument to environmentalism.
  10. Take the Confederate statue from in-front of the County Court House and move it indoors to display as in a museum with proper contextualization as described in item #1 above.
  11. In Booker T. Washington Park, commission and create a monument to the healthcare, food, and other critical workers who serve heroically during crises like the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
  12. At the corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road, commission and create a monument to athletics.
  13. In front of the Albemarle County Office Building at the corner of Preston Avenue and whatever decent name can be given to McIntire Road, commission and create a monument to women’s rights activism.
  14. Near McCormick Road, not far from UVA’s World War I Monument, commission and create a memorial to the horror of World War I, and to the flu epidemic of 1918 that it created.
  15. At the West End of the Downtown Mall put up a statue of the Dave Matthews Band.
  16. In Forest Hills Park, put up a monument to Children.
  17. Take the plaques memorializing two world wars and wars on Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq off the Rotunda, and / or add mention of the people – UVA alumni or not – killed on both sides of those wars.
  18. Add to the Rotunda plaques honoring University workers who served during crises like the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
  19. Add to the Rotunda a plaque honoring educators.
  20. Add to UVA’s campus monuments to Georgia O’Keefe, William Faulkner, Julian Bond, and someone new each year, with each year’s class of graduates deciding upon the subject.
  21. There no #21, but I did want to say this: Please send this list of 20 proposals to the “Don’t Erase History” crowd. Thanks!

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