Alexandria Letter: Putting History In Context

Alexandria Letter: Putting History In Context

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Unless people have been living under a rock, it must be clear to our citizens that there is a movement in today’s culture to erase Confederate symbols and history. African American culture is being emphasized and celebrated. Perhaps its grandest expression is the opening of the new National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, D. C. In Alexandria there are a number of tributes, often city sponsored, to the African American population including the Freedmen Cemetery, the Black History Museum, the Edmonson Sisters statue, the Freedom House Museum and many others.

In contrast, Alexandria seems to be systematically trying to reduce or eliminate its Confederate footprint. The latest and most egregious example of this is City Council’s attempt to remove the statue “Appomattox” at the intersection of Prince and South Washington Streets. Considered by many a significant work of art, it was created in 1889 by noted New York City sculptor, Caspar Buberl, who also created the frieze around the National Building Museum in Washington, D. C. as well as numerous statues and monuments in cities and states all around the United States. The statue was so highly regarded that the Confederate veterans who had it erected in memory of their fallen Alexandria comrades were forced to have it copyrighted to prevent multiple attempts to reproduce it in other locations.

Removing a statue that is part of the city’s heritage does not make sense to me. In spite of the Union occupation, Alexandria was a Confederate town both during and long after the War. This is a fact. History is the attempt, using factual evidence, to understand the events, lives and experiences of those who came before us. When I visit the National Park Service sites of Appomattox and Gettysburg, I do not find Confederate cleansing. Instead the park rangers tell the story of all sides of the conflict with understanding and respect for those involved. They reveal the complexities and the contradictions of the circumstances and are not afraid of nuance and paradox. I have personally witnessed the joy of one of the park directors in his ability to find money in this fund-starved era to purchase a letter written by a Confederate soldier that he wanted to add to the collection and to highlight in a special exhibition. Somehow I cannot picture the current Alexandria City Council happy to authorize money for the Lyceum’s purchase of a Confederate relic.

And it is too bad.

With the broadcast of PBS’s “Mercy Street” there is an increased interest in our city especially from people who enjoy Civil War history. We need to tell our town’s story from all sides, with equal respect, as well as with historical accuracy. Avoiding, omitting, shunning one side is not acceptable (as our black citizens repeatedly emphasize) and in spite of City Council’s statement of wanting “diversity and inclusion” it is obvious that inclusion of the city’s Confederate history has become anathema. In a historical context it is as partisan as the political context has become. That is too bad also. The ad hoc committee’s decision regarding the statue makes far more sense to me: keep the statue but add contextual information.

Sherry Hulfish Browne