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Charlottesville Historical Monuments Under the Microscope

Posted: Updated: Apr 06, 2016 05:15 PM
Statue of Robert E. Lee Statue of Robert E. Lee
Margaret O'bryant with Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society Margaret O'bryant with Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

The monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee is not the only historical marker in Charlottesville tied to a dark past.

Some say removing them is a sign of forgetting a history no one wants to repeat. Others say they carry on a legacy of hate. 

Each were erected for what would now be hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the cost of removing any of them some say would be greater than just the monetary value.

Downtown Charlottesville is just a few blocks away from a handful of statues or busts that honor confederate figures or actions of the Civil War-era.

Charlottesville's Court Square is home to what used to be an old slave auction block. It’s a dark past that’s swept under the feet of people walking by its beautiful landscape. A few steps away a monument honoring Stonewall Jackson adorns the city park.

"It has been considered since its creation as one of the finest equestrian statues in the world," said Margaret O'Bryant of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.

Members of the historical society know negative perceptions are associated with these statues, but they believe history should be held to a different standard. 

"They lived in their own time, we live in our own time and they can't be completely judged by the standards of today," said O'Bryant.

Mayor Mike Signer added his thoughts to the matter.

“I’ve led the call for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to discuss this issue of Confederate memorials in our city that were installed by the government during the Jim Crow era," said Signer.

Historical monument sculptor Paul Dipasquale says if the city removed Robert E. Lee's statue, it would be a mistake.

"I think it’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction to talk about taking down Confederate monuments. They’re beautiful works of art and the message that is conveyed in modern times is a message about the history that needs to be noted," said Dipasquale.

He doesn’t think the past should be forgotten but instead be built upon.

"It becomes a question of historical relevance really. I personally think its a mistake to take down monuments, I think history needs to be represented. I think that what is appropriate is additional interpretation of monuments and perhaps additional signage," said Dipasquale.

Adding to these monuments or erecting new ones has been suggested by a few people, and if the city decides to go that route, they'll be looking at spending thousands.

"I personally think we could and should put up more monuments for more people, other people and make it overall a place of recognition for a wide number of people," said O'Bryant.

The statue of Lee, erected in 1924, cost about $20,000. The cost for that statue in 2016 would be greater than $200,000.

The work to remove a statue and replace it also comes at a substantial price.

City councilors want feedback before they proceed with the next steps. They say they don't want to make any decisions before hearing from all sides and looking at all the options.

Council is only looking at the statue spurned by the petition but there are more controversial markers, and symbols spread across the city. All of this will come to a head when council takes up the issue at its meeting on April 18.

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