As part of its celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the University of Virginia will help to sponsor a discussion titled “Charlottesville Civil War Monuments: Do They Hold Significance for Today’s Society?” From the official press release:
In Charlottesville, Civil War monuments play a very prominent role in defining the landscape. Often displayed in parks or in front of buildings, these grand monuments invite us to reflect on Charlottesville’s unique southern history. While many have become comfortable and perhaps even immune to their presence, others are deeply troubled by their underlying implications.
At the Festival of the Book in the spring of 2012, Vice-Mayor Kristin Szakos questioned the relevance of these Civil War monuments, specifically the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park and the Stonewall Jackson statue in Jackson Park. She questioned whether we, as a community, should begin to hold conversations about our history, how we see ourselves, and whether these monuments represent that history.
During this dialogue, which is intended to be the first of several conversations, panelists will address the question of the significance of the Civil War monuments in Charlottesville. Facilitated small group conversations afterward will allow for all views to be expressed and heard.
The panelists are Lacy Ward Jr., director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum* and a board member here at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and John M. Coski, a historian at the Museum of the Confederacy whose work heavily influenced our entry on the Confederate battle flag.
We have alluded to this problem of monuments before, here and here. And because the website devoted to this event includes the above photograph without telling anybody what it depicts, let me tell you: It shows a crowd gathering in Charlottesville on October 19, 1921, for the unveiling of a statue of Stonewall Jackson. Sculptor Charles Keck created the statue of Jackson and his horse “Little Sorrel”; they sit atop a marble pedestal facing south. The statue cost roughly $35,000 and was designed for a small city park donated by local civic philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire. (McIntire deeded the land to the city on the condition that the park would bear no other statue other than the one dedicated to Stonewall Jackson.) The inaugural ceremony took place during a Confederate reunion, and Jackson’s great-great-granddaughter, Anna Jackson Preston, was there to unveil the statue.
As for how these statues might be significant in modern times, well, it’s significant to me! If you follow Little Sorrel’s right front leg straight down, that’s where Charlottesville’s sheriff (an African American woman, as it happens) married my lovely wife and me in 2008.
* Who’s Robert Russa Moton? And wasn’t there a school named for him or something?
IMAGE: Courtesy of the Holsinger Collection, University of Virginia Special Collections