To the Editor:
I was dismayed to learn [“War of Passive Aggression” Feb. 11] that of the eight white residents who addressed the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names at the Feb. 8 meeting, every one of them spoke against renaming the streets and moving the memorial. Had I been present, the paper would have reported one white speaker in support of renaming and removal.
I would suggest that where one stands on the issue depends very much on how you answer the question posed by John Hennessy, a historian with the National Park Service: “Is it possible to honor the Confederates without honoring the Confederacy?” My view is that it is not possible; these memorials, and what they represent, I believe are totally antithetical to the cultural and community norms embraced by most Alexandrians today, and therefore should be removed.
The resolution unanimously adopted by City Council establishing the Advisory Group charged the body to develop recommendations on actions with respect to the Appomattox statue, the streets named after Confederate generals and the name of Jefferson Davis Highway. The only guidance given to the group, however, was to “bring community values, knowledge, and ideas into its discussion and considerations.” Unfortunately, there are no instructions as to which or whose “community values” should be considered.
Since the resolution sprung from the City Council, I checked the council’s Strategic Plan for guidance and landed on the following declaration: “Alexandria is a caring and inclusive community that values its rich diversity, history and culture …” So, it seems fair to say that “history,” “diversity” and “inclusion” are all held in high esteem throughout the Alexandria community.
The question is: Given the very particular charge at hand before the Advisory Group, can these values be accommodated or reconciled?
On the one side, those favoring “history” argue that the symbols (the street names, statue, etc) convey only respect and regard for the Confederate soldiers who fought and died or returned from the war, and therefore they must not be “vilified,” nor their history “sanitized.”
To others who favor “diversity and inclusion,” however, those symbols have a very different meaning; they reflect an ugly period of racism, prejudice and division in our nation’s history. They would likely acknowledge that many of the city’s ancestors did fight bravely for the Confederacy, but they would be quick to add that they were fighting for a regime committed to white supremacy and racial purity.
No matter how well a few revisionist historians have managed to cover the misdeeds and crimes of the Confederacy, its true raison d’etre was and remains the clear enemy of communities that wish to foster racial and ethnic diversity and cultural inclusion.
If we agree that diversity and inclusion shall remain among our most cherished values, then we must work even harder to diminish and devalue the symbols and expressions of racism, bigotry and prejudice that undermine those values.
The resolution creating the Advisory Group called for more than “community values” to be brought to bear on the discussion; it called for new ideas as well. Here’s two I’m proposing for their consideration.
First, let’s donate the Appomattox statue on South Washington Street to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens its doors in September of this year. It would be a very appropriate “resting place” for our Confederate soldier and it would be only a few Metro stops away for those who care to visit him. And second, in an unmistakable nod to “diversity” and “inclusion” over “history,” let’s rename every street sign within the city limits of Alexandria that bears the name Jefferson Davis (the president of the Confederacy) to William D. or Bill Euille, the first African American mayor of the City of Alexandria.
Richard E. Merritt