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Blue Ribbon Commission continues debate on Civil War monuments

Proposals will be forwarded to City Council for approval

The Charlottesville City Council’s Blue Ribbon Commission met to discuss how to handle changes to Civil War memorials Monday night.

They also discussed proposals to continue funding the construction of the Daughters of Zion cemetery, and whether or not to give financial assistance to the Vinegar Hill memorial and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Additionally, the commission talked about naming new structures in the city after local historical figures, especially African Americans, and gave recommendations for future memorials.

However, the commission’s main discussion centered on the proposals for changing statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, which are both located in Charlottesville parks.

The proposals for each were to either move the statues to McIntire Park or to simply change the statues and the landscaping around them in order to ensure the statues are portrayed in a way that educates the public about the true history of the figures.

“This commission suggests that the Lee and Jackson statues belong in no public space unless their history as symbols of white supremacy is revealed and their respective parks transformed in ways that promote freedom and equity in our community,” the Commission’s report to the City Council read.

Any changes to the statue must be unambiguous and on a large scale, according to the report.

Those in favor of moving the statue to McIntire Park cited the discomfort of Charlottesville residents with having the statues in such public places.

“Charlottesville wants a central place to congregate without discomfort,” Andrea Douglas, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center director, said.

Douglas brought up the conflict between the “cultural appropriateness of keeping it in place as opposed to moving it.”

Commission members also raised fears that moving the statues would erase them from public conscience.

“I don’t think that if you remove the object you remove the history,” Blue Ribbon Commission Chairman Don Gathes said. “People tore down the Berlin Wall, and we still talk about that.”

Those against moving the statues saw the memorials as tools for education.

“We are living the history that is embodied by these statues,” University Assoc. History Prof. John Mason said. “Most Charlottesville residents don’t know the history behind these statues.”

Others said they were worried removing the statues would mean losing an opportunity to confront the history behind them.

“We would be removing the opportunity to talk about why the statue is there, how it got to be there, and a way to say, ‘never again,’” commission member Susan Lewis said.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will present its report to the Charlottesville City Council Dec. 19, along with its proposals for altering or moving the statues. Any action by the City Council will help the community confront its past, commission member Frank Dukes said.

“We can recognize that history,” Dukes said. “Not whitewash it.”