Critical Thinking: Monuments

This morning, I took a vote against SB183, which provides that a locality may remove, relocate, or alter a war monument or memorial, regardless of when erected. This legislation was assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee, and, as a member of the committee, I voted against this bill.

Since our founding, Virginia has played a pivotal role in American history. This history, right and wrong, should not be erased. Existing monuments should be used in our Commonwealth as an opportunity to educate, learn, and grow from both our past successes and mistakes. For example, localities in other states such as North Carolina have taken initiatives to supplement existing Confederate monuments with additional context and information to add educational value.

I think Professor Lawrence Kuznar said it best:

Removing Confederate statues amounts to whitewashing our history, turning our heads away from the inconvenient truths of our past. We should let them stand and use them to remind ourselves of what we are and are not, the cost our forebears paid for our freedom and to educate our children...Destroying or removing our monuments is the easy way out of our obligation to understand our past and improve our future. Monuments to our nation’s racism can be as much a tool to counter it as they can be tool to foment it. The choice and obligation is ours.

Virginia’s history is both complicated and rich. As we add new monuments, we display insight into the complexity of our history and honor those who may have been forgotten when older monuments were erected.

I firmly believe that if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it. Virginia has evolved with accountability for the parts of its past that it may be ashamed of. Evidence of this are the new Virginia Women’s Monument and Rumors of War

monument, both in Richmond. I was proud to serve on the Virginia Women's Monument Commission, where we worked to construct a monument recognizing and honoring those dynamic women who came before us. Artist Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War sculpture at the VMFA is an excellent example of how to add context and educational value by more inclusively telling the American story. Through art and education, we have the ability to build on a past that we may not always be proud of.

Correcting the narrative is better than destroying it. This is how we tell the story and learn from our history. Instead of “removing, relocating or altering” the inconvenient truths of our past, we need to be reminded and educated about our past so that we continue to learn, never forget, and never repeat.

Source: Lawrence A. Kuznar, I detest our Confederate monuments. But they should remain, Washington Post (Aug. 18, 2017),