A common argument made by racist-memorabilia-loving white people who still swear to white Jesus that they aren’t racist is that the tearing down of Confederate monuments is an attempt at erasing history.
People with the ability to think critically, on the other hand, understand that monuments are erected to honor and immortalize people and events, not simply to record them in history—that’s literally what history books are for. So the “but...but...but muh heritage” crowd might be disappointed to hear that the state of Virginia is officially removing its iconic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, but for the rest of us, it’s a long-overdue move.
NBC News reports that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the statue of Lee—which has stood along Richmond’s Monument Avenue since 1890—will be removed along with four other Confederate monuments celebrating Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Matthew Fontaine Maury and J.E.B. Stuart who were all prominent leaders of the Confederacy.
“Today, we’re here to be honest about our past and talk about our future,” Northam said in a news conference. “I’m no historian, but I strongly believe we have to confront where we’ve been in order to get where we’re going.
“When a young child looks up and sees something that big and prominent, she knows it must be important,” he continued. “When it’s the biggest thing around, it sends a clear message: This is what we value the most. That’s not true anymore.”
Listen: It may very well be that Northam is doing all this in an effort to work off the shame that has followed him since last year when a college photo was unearthed showing him in blackface next to someone in full Klan attire, but that doesn’t change the significance of his decision.
The weight of Northam’s decision is significant: Monument Avenue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark District, it’s home to celebrations in honor of Lee’s birthday and to Confederate-themed events, and is a local attraction for tourists and history buffs.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney joined Northam in lauding the decision and touting it as a sign of racial progress.
“Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy,” he said.
According to NBC, Stoney previously commented that “We have two pandemics in our country right now: COVID-19 and racism. One is six months old, the other is 400 years old. Both are lethal especially for black and brown people.”
It’s unclear when exactly the removal of these statues will begin, but NBC reports that it will be happening in “the coming weeks.” The statues will be placed in storage and, according to Northam, decisions are still being made regarding what will replace them or whether they’ll be replaced by anything at all.