Governor candidates disagree on plan for Virginia's Confederate monuments

By Jeff Williamson - Digital Content Manager
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Police stand watch near the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally devolved into violence Aug. 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

VIRGINIA - Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Ralph Northam believes that Confederate monuments across the Commonwealth should be removed and placed in museums.

He released this statement Wednesday in response to Charlottesville's decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park:

"I support City of Charlottesville's decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue. I believe these statutes should be taken down and moved into museums. As governor, I am going to be a vocal advocate for that approach and work with localities on this issue.

"We should also do more to elevate the parts of our history that have all too often been underrepresented. That means memorializing civil rights advocates like Barbara Johns and Oliver Hill, who helped move our Commonwealth closer towards equality."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie issued a statement of his own on Wednesday afternoon:

My opponent now says that he believes decisions about historical statues are best made at the local level, but that they should be removed. I believe that decisions about historical statues are best made at the local level, but they should stay and be placed in historical context. These are legitimate differences, and I know Virginians are engaging in an ongoing, thoughtful conversation about these sensitive issues, one marked by respect and understanding.

From our very founding, Virginia has played a central role in American history. We are home to Mt. Vernon, Monticello and Montpelier. Jamestown, Yorktown, First Manassas, Fredericksburg, Appomattox. The Loving Case, Moton High School, Governor Douglas Wilder.

We have been on the right side of history, and on the wrong side of history. The Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, our Constitution, being central to Brown v. Board of Education (Moton High School), electing the nation’s first black governor, and in many other instances, Virginia and Virginians have been leaders in expanding freedom and equality.

But seeking to sustain the evil institution of slavery in the Civil War, denying a woman of one race the right to marry a man of another, opposing desegregation of our schools through massive resistance, are some examples of Virginia and Virginians having been leaders in oppressing people and denying them their freedom.

Our history is our history. Mostly for the better, but at times for the worse, our Commonwealth has been at the forefront of historic events, and Virginians central players in them. I know that for many of my fellow Virginians, statues of Confederate soldiers are offensive and should come down. I know that for many others, they are a reminder of heritage and we cannot erase history by taking them down. In my view, the approach underway in the city of Richmond is a good example for other cities and counties to follow. While not removing statues, they are weighing how to put them in proper historical context.

There is a balance that can be struck here, one that recognizes the outsized role Virginia has played in our history, while acknowledging that we have not always been on its right side. Rather than glorifying their objects, the statues should be instructional. While ensuring that Confederate statues are not exalting them but educating about them, we should do more to elevate Virginia’s history in expanding freedom and equality by extolling the many Virginians who played critical roles in this regard.

Ours is a diverse Commonwealth, with people in different communities holding different values and having different perceptions. Allowing Virginians to work through the sensitive issues surrounding these historical statues at the local level is the best way to do so without inflaming tensions and stoking resentments. Virginians are good and caring people. It was not surprising to me to read in one news report that 90 percent of the torch-carrying, shield-bearing white supremacist and neoNazi mob in Charlottesville on Saturday were from outside our Commonwealth. They essentially invaded Virginia. But Virginia is better and stronger than them. In the aftermath of Hateful Saturday in Charlottesville, I know we can have this discussion about our shared history and how we recognize it in a thoughtful and respectful manner worthy of Virginia.

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