JENKINS: Remove Confederate plaques from the Rotunda

These racist historical markers have no place on Grounds

In recent weeks many students, especially black students, have begun to question what their U.Va. is. Is it the University they applaud as the number two public university in the country? The pristine and manicured Lawn they show in pamphlets? Perhaps it is the guys in ties and girls in pearls that are signature at football games? In truth, it is all of that and more. It is where black women are harassed and called “nappy-headed n—s” as they walk home. It is where childish yet age-old hatred stains the walls of first-year dormitories. And more insidiously, it is where the University itself has placed a stamp of endorsement on hatred, oppression and the slave South. As you make your way to the newly opened Rotunda, what will you see? You will discover the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association’s gift to the University. The face of our Rotunda is scarred by two plaques from 1906, displaying the names of fallen Confederate soldiers — men who believed the only existence a black body could have at the University was one of servile subordination.

The objectionable and antiquated adornments on the most prominent symbol of our University are a naked dismissal of black students’ hope of a shared ownership of the University. Therefore, I say to the Board of Visitors and the University administration to spearhead the campaign to remove these plaques. While no one party can independently make that change, they have the proper access and political influence on bodies that advise any significant alteration to the Academical Village, such as the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. The preservation of history cannot be an excuse to applaud racism and romanticize bigotry. Tradition should not allow this administration to ignore the palpable truth that these plaques are anti-black and anti-me. I question how administrators can express sympathies for black students in emails as they allow these unfortunate badges of cruelty and subjugation to shine so brightly without amend. You cannot defend my right to be here and in the same breath defend the Confederacy’s lasting legacy plastered at the center of our University. You wonder why we feel unwelcome? Then I say you are either blind or insincere in your efforts to change that status quo. Yet, I know the myriad Ph.D.s and JDs who create University policy and often were educated right here on these Grounds are too smart to be so blind. Those Confederate men may have rather cut off my genitals, stuffed them in my mouth, hung me from a tree and burned my body before they would let me suggest I was their equal. Ironically, a Rotunda employee asked me if I had any relatives on the list as I stared at it — I looked at her dumbfounded by the idiocy of the suggestion.

The veneration we have afforded to these fallen soldiers is antithetical to my America — a free America in which my body is not brutalized for fostering the hope of a better future. While I agree any loss of human life is sad, pardon me if I jump up, shout and rejoice in my people’s freedom rather than lament in our oppressors’ deaths. Many of those men fought for the unjust cause to deny our humanity and relegate us to chattel.

I call upon the University to stop hiding behind 200-year-old bricks that enslaved men and women molded with their own hands while white men watched. To stop hiding behind its southern genteel ways that simultaneously praise honor while spewing mediocre justifications for the maintenance of symbols promoting the devastation of an entire people. History should not serve as your deflection shield to my request, but should instead serve as a critical cue that change is the only gearshift that will lead to improvement.

While the University is full of paradoxes, here's one with easy remedy. If administrators and the Board can find it in their hearts to say we have a right to be here, I hope the University can find it in its heart to remove the names of the men who said we didn't have that right. While I love sitting on the steps of the majestic Rotunda that my people helped build, I would love it a lot more if the University took the care to give enslaved laborers their proper place. Engrave their names on a plaque to be mounted on the face of the Rotunda rather than walked over and disregarded on the ground in front of it. I know the University gave us Gibbons dorm and I know that they gave us Pinn Hall. But, I’m saying we want more. We want your Rotunda. And I say “your,” because I sure can’t say “our” while those names continue to hang there.

VJ Jenkins is a fourth-year College student.

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