Just say no | Richmond Free Press

Just because someone gives you something doesn’t make it worth having.

Last major examples: the 12-ton, 21-foot bronze statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue and several other city-owned rebel monuments that were demolished last year, including those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen JEB Stuart and Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury, also of Monument Avenue.

Governor Ralph S. Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney announced a plan last week to donate this collection of Confederate wrecks and jetsams to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Jackson Ward’s small private museum needs to work with The Valentine, another small downtown private museum that focuses on Richmond’s history, to figure out what to do with these behemoths.

Under the proposed arrangement, which must be approved by Richmond City Council, the public will have a voice in what happens to the statues.

Some people hailed the move on social media. They called it “poetic justice” by having the museum and the descendants of those who were enslaved for centuries by white oppressors – and later by the traitors who led the Southern rebellion against the United States to keep black people enslaved – be overseers of the fate of the statues erected by white supremacists and their descendants to honor the lost cause and remind black people of their continued inferior status in the Southern social order.

“Symbols matter, and for far too long Virginia’s most important symbols have celebrated the tragic division of our country and the side that fought to keep the institution of slavery alive by any means possible” , Governor Northam said in a press release announcing the gift. “It will now be up to our thoughtful museums, informed by the people of Virginia, to determine the future of these artifacts, including the base of the Lee Monument, which has taken on particular prominence as protest art.”

The big question: why would the Black History Museum – and black people in general – want to have anything to do with these monuments?

For centuries we have had to look after white people and all their “business” – their homes, their kitchens, their laundry, their children, their crops, their livestock, their businesses – first on the plantations and later in as “salaried” workers. . Why do we now want to be burdened with the burden of caring for their statues?

Why should the Black History Museum divert its time, attention and resources to dealing with these remnants of hate?

Until now, the state and the city have been responsible for the storage, maintenance and security of the statues. What will happen when the statues suddenly become part of the Black History Museum? Will the museum – not quite full of cash – have to pay those bills?

How many of the museum’s current loyal donors would be willing to continue giving knowing that their money will be spent to properly protect this new Confederate cache, which the city estimates is worth $12 million?

We suspect many will turn to directed donations, stipulating that their donations will be targeted to specific areas and not to support or upkeep Confederate statues.

For years, we at the Free Press have insisted that the symbols of white supremacy and racial oppression on Monument Avenue be erased from the city’s landscape. And we’re glad they’ve now been taken down. We have recommended in the past that they be donated or sold to National Park Service Civil War battlefields or other related historic sites, such as birthplaces or Civil War museums or cemeteries, as contextual artifacts.

Since their removal in mid-2020, the statues have become something of an albatross around the neck of the city of Richmond, which has wondered what to do with them. At the end of 2020, the city received nearly two dozen offers from 17 organizations and five individuals who expressed interest in acquiring the statues. The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia was not one of them. Most of the bids, which came from as far away as California, asked for the statues for free.

A Los Angeles museum wanted them for up to two years for display, the Free Press reported in November 2020, while a Connecticut art studio offered to have the statues smashed and the pieces sold as a fundraiser. for Richmond Public Schools and City Charitable Groups.

In the face of COVID-19 and other pressing issues right now, the statues have not been a priority for the city and the Stoney administration, which has spent $1.8 million to remove them. And the Lee statue and pedestal issue has been a political hot potato for Governor Northam’s administration, which doesn’t want to leave the question of what to do with it to the incoming Republican administration of Governor-elect Glenn A. Youngkin. , who could very well decide to put Lee’s statue back in place.

However, we believe the donation of the statues is a burden that should not weigh on the Black History Museum, despite comments from Marland Buckner, the museum’s acting executive director.

“Our institution takes very seriously the responsibility of managing these objects in a way that ensures their origins and purpose are never forgotten…” Buckner said. “We believe that with this responsibility also comes opportunities – opportunities to deepen our understanding of a core element of American history: the expansion of freedom.

“We hope this process will elevate public dialogue about our shared history…”

While the museum is a venerable institution representing black history in Richmond and throughout the Commonwealth, the museum would certainly want to weigh in on what should happen to Confederate artifacts. But owning them and being the responsible entity for them is like giving a poisoned apple to a starving man. This story does not end well.

At the risk of sounding flippant, we suggest that the Black History Museum organize a clearance sale or auction to get rid of these statues once and for all – to make the relocation sites their own – and then use the proceeds to continue their own mission to tell the story of Black people, their lives, their history and their achievements, even in the face of centuries of oppression.

Or the museum could simply say no and refuse these “gifts”.


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