authority over monuments
When I graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax in 1969, I had learned nothing of Virginia’s racist 1902 Constitution that disenfranchised African Americans. Since then Virginians have made slow, painful progress in overturning the legacies of that constitution and the laws that enshrined it, even in the face of continuing resistance.
However, there remains one significant law from that era that is still on the books today: the law that prevents Virginia localities from removing Confederate war memorials. Make no mistake, while the law has been amended to include memorials from other wars, the original 1904 law spoke only of Confederate memorials. That law was part of the massive movement to institutionalize white supremacy throughout the commonwealth.
Lawmakers in Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates have an opportunity to overturn that remnant of Jim Crow and return local control over war memorials to cities and counties that are forced to display them in front of courthouses, in public parks and other spaces where defenders of the Lost Cause erected them.
Opponents have spoken of a slippery slope by which other war memorials, such as those honoring Vietnam veterans, will be removed if localities gain control. Do they really fear democracy so much? As one who took the Air Force oath of allegiance a few weeks after that high school graduation during the height of the Vietnam War, I have no concern that anyone will be removing other memorials. Indeed, in Charlottesville, the debate about our community’s memorial to Vietnam veterans is over how much to spend to make it more accessible.