To the Editor:
Kudos and thanks to Councilman Wilson for his Sept. 2016 Council Connection newsletter pledge (Confederate History): “… a modern Alexandria should focus not just on what should be removed or renamed, but how to portray a more accurate and fair telling of our history.”
Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names focused on only what should be removed/renamed. Sadly, it lacked members knowledgeable about Confederate history who were able to correct members’ many misstatements or do needed research (how many businesses/residents would be affected by a name change for Jefferson Davis Highway and their related costs) before making recommendations.
For at least five decades Council has appropriated millions of dollars to acquire and establish, and funded, maintained and staffed many city sites about Union and Black history, including online resources, brochures, teaching materials, cemeteries, parks, statues, sculptures, museums and educational programs.
The city has never owned or contributed to maintaining any Confederate sites, even Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home, or providing informational materials. Privately owned and maintained, these attractions are not publicized as such by city staff. Thus, there has never been an “accurate and fair telling of our history,” as has been made abundantly and painfully evident by remarks at the public hearings. Regrettably, citizens who prize their Confederate heritage and honor their ancestors were generally demonized as the only racists, bigots, haters, etc. in the country.
Many citizens repeatedly and wrongly asserted that slavery was the sole cause of the war. (Was any war ever fought for only one reason?) Of course, that’s not what Lincoln said in 1861 when he called for invasion; it was to coerce those states back into the Union (an illegal action). He didn’t declare abolition of slavery until two years later when he needed another rationale for the unpopular war — and the Union populace immediately reacted with draft and race riots, hunting down and killing slaves and freedmen whom they blamed for causing the war. Lincoln never tried to free the slaves in the Union which included four slave states, just those in “the rebellious territories.” Grant kept his slaves until the adoption of the 13th amendment — well after the war’s end.
I look forward to Mr. Wilson, the mayor and other councilors recognizing and correcting this defect in our portrayal of our history. I have recommended Council start by establishing a city museum to tell the story of our antebellum, Confederate and Reconstruction periods, created and staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable experts and well-funded so it can acquire and exhibit materials, sponsor programs, etc. like our other museums. Until then, Fort Ward should emphasize our Confederate history to balance its 50 years of Union programming.
I wish this undertaking had been the focus of our Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the War, just as establishing the Fort Ward park and museum was the centerpiece of our Centennial observance; it would have been a worthy start to providing the much needed balance Mr. Wilson has pledged.
Ellen Latane Tabb