LETTER: Coming to terms with the past

Dear Editor,

Thank you for Weston Gobar's well-written and even-handed piece from March 31 regarding the plaques honoring students and faculty who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. My ancestor is one of the names on the plaque. His father was a slave-owner. As a student at the University, I thought it was cool that one of my ancestors was on the Rotunda. Time, education and experience have shifted my feelings regarding this “honor.”

Coming to terms with this part of my family’s past has been complicated. In struggling with how best to teach my children about their heritage, I have come to realize that we can’t gloss over the evil of slavery, nor ignore the culture of the times. I truly believe that if we erase the past, we are bound to repeat it. It is ugly but it happened. I was always told by my grandmother that her grandfather treated his slaves well, but that was probably the story told to many a child and, even if it was so, “well” is relative, and it certainly falls shamefully short of free.

I have inherited the family farm in Louisa County, 40 minutes from Charlottesville, and I am involved in an initiative by the Louisa County Historical Society to document the burying places of enslaved persons in the county. There is a slave cemetery on our farm. It is well known to us, and I visited it as a child. I don’t recall what I thought when I saw those 30-some depressions in the ground, marked only by field stones. I have learned through the county that we’re fortunate there are stones to mark the graves (which isn't always the case), and that the farm has remained in the family for so long. We are going to research family and census records to try to determine who might be buried there.

All of this is to give context to my support of removing the plaques from the Rotunda. However, I do believe the plaques should be installed as part of a permanent exhibit examining the University's role in the institution of slavery, and that the plaques' provenance should be noted. That so many of these monuments and memorials were placed during Reconstruction and the turn of the 20th century is important in understanding the mood and culture of our country — lest we forget.

Thank you again for the excellent opinion piece,

Mary Evans, CLAS 1986

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