Email #258: “our beautiful statues”?

President Trump opposes the removal of Confederate statues: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

As a resident of Lexington and an employee of your alma mater, Washington and Lee University, this is especially concerning to me. Our town has been called a “Mecca of the War Between the States,” and a statue of Stonewall Jackson centers our town cemetery. Our Virginia Military Institute has four Confederate statues on its campus. When Washington and Lee’s previous president chose to stop displaying Confederate flags in the main space of Lee Chapel, he and his wife received death threats. Our current president has been asked to accept Confederate symbols removed from other locations to display on our campus. He’s declined.

University of Texas at Austin removed four statues of Confederate generals on Monday. President Greg Fenves said: “Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation. These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

On Saturday in North Carolina, Duke University removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee after it was vandalized. President Vincent Price said: “I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university.”

In Kentucky, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced the removal of two Confederate statues: “I think in times like this it’s extremely important that elected officials communicate clearly with their constituents — it’s time to stand up and speak out, not sit back and relax.”

On the Monday after the Charlottesville terrorism, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said: “It is my intention to move forward with the removal of Baltimore City’s confederate statues.” The city council unanimously approved a resolution to destroy the statues. Councilman Brandon Scott said: “What no one who saw what we saw in Charlottesville … should do is sit back and just say that we should allow these monuments to stay up across our country, so these folks have lightning rod to come to. They should be melted down and re-purposed to honor true American heroes.”

Other Confederate statues and monuments have been or are in the process of being removed in California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Most were erected while Jim Crows were being established in the 1890s and in the 1950s while Southern states were resisting the Civil Rights movement.

In Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney is forming a committee to “redefine the false narrative” around their confederate statues. A Confederate heritage rally is planned at one of the statues on September 16. Such rallies occur annually in Lexington, and Confederate flaggers displayed their flags on Main Street as recently as Saturday.

What is your position on Confederate flags and statues? Do you believe they simply reflect regional pride or do they, as the president of Duke University said, “represent the subjugation of African Americans”? Do you deny they are the symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism? Given their history and association, do you stand with the President in regarding them as “beautiful”?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

2 thoughts on “Email #258: “our beautiful statues”?”

    1. When he responds it is with a form letter. Which means he never responds, his staff does, and only with a pre-written letter on roughly the same topic but with no attention to any specific points I have made. And I haven’t recieved even a form letter in weeks if not months.

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