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“I’ve always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the north about. I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery.”
— Col. John Singleton Mosby, “The Gray Ghost,” Army of the Confederate States of America
During this time of civil unrest, we’ve heard many young voices decry the injustice that has plagued our country. Unfortunately, this injustice is so commonplace that many cannot see it. Racial inequality is front and center in our unfair justice systems, economic systems, and political systems. Monuments play a role, too. They declare, “This is what we worked to achieve,” “This is who we are,” or “This is our hero.” Monuments perpetuate the past, and for a lot of people, that past is painful. Right now we have the chance to look within and renegotiate what is acceptable to pass on to future generations.
Confederate monuments have always been controversial. During the early 20th century, when most of these monuments were built, there were objections from black and white Americans. They were disturbed by the valorization of those bent on preserving a deeply oppressive economic system of slavery. In 1900, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the monument in front of the Rappahannock County courthouse, organizations throughout the south were revising how the Civil War and its Confederate veterans should be remembered.
For decades after the Civil War, the south was filled with shame and guilt. Some were able to change their minds, while others changed their tactics. Jim Crow laws spread across the south, continuing a soft war. Voting rights were diminished, segregation was enforced by the police, and lynching and intimidation continued to preserve the forced racial hierarchy. There is no denying the ugly history of our country, and when many see Confederate monuments they see this frightening vision of our past.
Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans sponsored hundreds of monuments across our country in an attempt to sanitize their own actions and those of their families and comrades. They meant to tell a new story by editing out the harsh truths of brutality, and cruelty. The UDC and many “lost cause” believers set out to provide plausible deniability, and a gentle feminine cover for those that fought to maintain slavery. Today, Virginia awards the UDC tens of thousands of dollars every year for monument maintenance, using taxpayer money.
Confederate monuments show us how pervasive racism was in the past, and still is today. It’s time for us to face what has been with us all along. It’s time to disassemble systems of oppression, and take down symbols of oppression. No more public money or public space should be allocated to these monuments that are so divisive. Removing monuments is not going to end racism, nor will it erase history, but it is a step towards a more just future. It is time to remove the Confederate monument from the seat of Rappahannock County.
The writers live in Washington.
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