By Doug Coleman
On June 17, 2015, an angry racist punk named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-Americans at a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; he left one more wounded. Roof liked to post selfies posing with the Confederate flag, which in his mind represented white resistance to the Left’s agenda to diversify America. This in turn sparked a national movement on the Left to ban the Confederate battle flag and obliterate all memorials to those who fought for the Confederacy, now conflated with racism and white supremacy.
Alexandria’s left-leaning local government of course jumped on this band-wagon as well. On September 29, 2015, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a resolution to establish an “Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names.” The agenda included four points: the “status” of the Confederate memorial at Prince and Washington; renaming Jefferson Davis Highway; renaming streets named after Confederates; and banning the Confederate flag on City property. City Council tipped its hand early when on September 8th it banned the flying of the flag on City property for Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day.
On the renaming of the streets, no one found it ironic that the protocol for naming north-south streets was established by Alexandria Democrats in 1953 to commemorate prominent Confederates – all or most of whom were Democrats. Democrats have apparently forgotten their history as the party of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and, more recently, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” It is understandable that one might want to whitewash this past, but it is more honest to let the street signs testify to that pedigree. However, no one should be led to believe these streets were christened by the party of Lincoln.
No less controversial is the memorial to Alexandria’s Confederate dead, the statue named Appomattox. And the controversy is not new – Mayor Jim Moran advocated its removal back in the 1980’s, allegedly as a traffic hazard, though locals suspected his Massachusetts origins may have had more to do with it. Fortunately the statue is protected by two powerful forces, the first of which is the fact that it would take an act by the legislature to remove it – unlikely where the rest of the Commonwealth might view Northern Virginia’s haters as pudding-brained commie carpetbaggers. Secondly, the locals (not the majority just passing through) have a genuine affection for the old memorial. They know why the statue is where it is, in the same intersection where Alexandria’s militia gathered to leave for Manassas on the day Virginia was invaded. They know who the statue honors – the 100 Alexandrians who gave their lives defending the Commonwealth from that invasion. It has been a part of the landscape for a long time – since May 24, 1889 – and its removal for political motives would put us in the same league as ISIS blowing up archaeology it considers un-Islamic. Sarah Becker has written on the Confederate Statue for us and you may find her excellent article here: https://oldtowncrier.com/2015/09/01/the-confederate-statue/
Fortunately the Ad Hoc Committee seems to recognize the memorial’s value, stating in its draft report: “The removal of the statue would be a deliberate act to remove a piece of Alexandria’s history and cultural heritage and must be treated seriously.” Yeah – in a city with our tourist industry, “history and cultural heritage” matter.
The Old Town Crier sought the opinions of its readers and the comments are overwhelmingly in favor of preserving this unique piece of history. Here are a few examples:
NOTE: None of the following have been edited nor has spelling been corrected. These are exactly what was emailed to us. Many of these comments are excerpts but can be read in their entirety at oldtowncrier.com
“My mother, grandmother, myself and our entire family are toltally against any removal of the Soldier on Washington Street.
The letter below was dictated to me by my now 102 year old grandmother. Her grandfather was a member of the organization who planned and errected the statue. She is 100% + against removal of this soldier from his resting place. She grew up in Alexandria until I moved her to Va Beach when she was 95. She continues to feel that Alexandria is and will always be her home. My grandmother sent the letter to the Mayor of Alexandria and after receiving her letter, she called me and requested a meeting with my grandmother. This was not published or made public. Mayor Allison told us that it was more for a humansitic meeting, not political.
I periodically bring her to Alexandria to attend the Daughters of the Confederacy meetings held the first Sat. of the month.” – Therese DeSanto, The letter can be read online.
“Let us not throw away our history because it seems politically incorrect. Alexandria has such rich history and that statue and what it represents is part of it.” – Cheryl Holt
“The confederate statue is both tasteful and arguably peaceful. In no way does it glorify war or the confederacy. It’s a part of Alexandria’s and American history and deserves to be right where it is. If modern “students” find it offensive they should “Look away.” They won’t get this reference either.” – J Murray Tarter
“I find it unbelievable that political correctness is raising its insidious divisive head in Alexandria over this historical monument. My response to these Democrats, (and surely the proponents of removing the statue are Democrats) is:
When the Democratic Party apologizes to all Americans for institutionalizing slavery in America and perpetuating it through Jim Crow laws then maybe we can discuss this statue. Until the Democratic Party apologizes, the statue stays perhaps now as a reminder to them of their history in promoting racism and slavery in America…” – Jim Haybyrne
“History is full of individuals and cultural icons that are today regarded as anachronistic or irrelevant or objectionable. These things are nonetheless a part of history, and if we begin a process of “cultural cleansing” — based on modern notions of morality — then many of the icons and symbols of human history will be removed from our sight….” – Timothy Conway
“This has to stop. My Confederate Ancestry is being discriminated against. Stop with erasing the war. I don’t care the North won. My non-slave owning ancestors were fighting for their beliefs. The war wasn’t about slaves. It was because of economics. Done!” – firstname.lastname@example.org
“Everyone who wants this statue removed should take the time to go to Prince and Washington Streets and then go a few steps south on Washington and take a long and thoughtful look at this soldier’s face……Leave it alone.” – David A. Norcross
“I was born in Old Alexandria Hospital almost 70 years ago, and have been here all my life. I could say the statue has been a part of the city that long, but what I really feel is that if you forget the past, you are doomed to repeat it. We cannot forget that terrible episode of our country’s past and must work hard to do better and that statue is a bitter reminder.” – Helen Bradford
“This Alexandria icon must be preserved at its current location. The current anti-Confederate everything hysteria is counterproductive and represents hate not heritage.” – Claude Mayo, Native Alexandrian
“It is appalling to me that Alexandria are even considering moving this statue. This is an attempt to rewrite history by a small hate group and its allies. Confederate soldiers, almost none of whom owned slaves, were fighting to defend a legitimate government against an unwanted (both in the North & the South) and unconstitutional invasion……” – Willard Hardman, PhD
“Definitely should stay. That soldier represents a part of Alexandria’s history. As misguided as the city’s Confederate sympathies may have been, the figure is neither inflammatory nor boastful. It is a stitch in the bigger weave that makes up Alexandria’s identity. Acknowledge history, learn from it–Don’t erase it.” – MM Flannery
“I am positive about its history and artistic value and its appeal for tourism to Alexandria. More can be said about the statue and its history at the Lyceum so that we add balance and not just remove our southern history and story of how Alexandria’s families mourned their losses and rebuilt Alexandria into the city it is today, one we can all be proud of.” – Jim Becker
“Don’t stir the hornet nest. As a retired Time Life Books person having had our office on South Washington St, I enjoyed the history of that confederate soldier. This statue is not confederate flag. Let sleeping dogs lie. As someone who promoted TLB’s Civil War series too, those were tough times “Brothers against Brothers”. We need some respect for those who died on both sides.” – Yori.email@example.com
The statue, renowned for artistic excellence, is a monument to boyhood chums who as young men fought to protect their loved ones, city and state against invaders. Would we urge our citizens today to do less in the same circumstances and should we not publicly honor the courage and sacrifice of these American soldiers? The site is where they last gathered, all living, in uniform, as the invasion was expected. That is why Edgar Warfield, initiator of the regiment, its last survivor and initiator of the statue, chose that site and why it should remain there in perpetuity. It is a funeral monument. Some of those dead may have no other.
“It is a sad commentary on some of our citizens that they think the war was fought solely to preserve slavery, the narrative falsely put out in history books still written in the North by its propagandists…If we have removed all Confederate traces, what will that say about us as a city that claims to be the hometown of George Washington who was renowned for telling the truth? Of course, as everyone knows, a partial truth is not the truth, so we must tell the whole story and tell it well. Robert E. Lee is also an international hero, but you wouldn’t know he had lived here from the information provided tourists.” – Ellen Latane Tabb
“I caution all. Beware of the baggage that one brings to this conversation – Our educations are often both simplistic and emotionally based. As a result, we tend to perceive reality in black and white and see – I do not mean in a racial sense. Though we are taking about race and our racial histories AND we are talking about our collective histories and our collective heritages – we cannot make them go away. They are what they are – History happened! We should live in our history and with our history – Good and bad….Embrace both hate and love, and live with who we are and from whence we came, and cease attempting to erase historic realities.” – Mark Michael Ludlow M.A
“I have been watching very closely the public shenanigans concerning the attempt by the City of Alexandria to change the names of the streets and buildings connected with the Confederacy. Also I am against the proposal to remove the statue of Appomattox that commemorates and identifies the one hundred gallant men from Alexandria that lost their lives defending Virginia during the period 1861 to 1865. If this is what political correctness has become in our culture then I want no part of it……” – Don Hakenson
“The Great Cover-Up!!! Reading your small clip in the Old Town Crier, I could not but chuckle about the great cover-up that is being foisted off as some sort of rightest racist rant.. And in fact the tone of the argument is to pit the poor African American minority against the Republican party…..So now is the time to cover-up the crime of despotism in the 1800’s. Just get rid of the statues and monuments, blame the Republicans and no one will remember which party sponsored and supported slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and the corrupt Affirmative Action scams. Sweet Deal if the Demokrat Party can get away with it.” – Robert P.J. Lindseth
“……One thing that has always resonated with me, is the importance placed on our history and to honor, respect and preserve the memory of those who have served—no matter what.
I have family that fought on both sides of the Civil War conflict.
I am in favor and great belief that all memorials should remain in place. People that came before us wanted to honor and remember—who are we to change “their” minds?…..Please let Appamatox stand- He is a symbol of honor and memory and of service and sacrifice.” – Lois S. O’Connor
“It is my understanding that you are conducted a poll as to whether or not the statue of the Confederate soldier “Appomattox” should remain in its current location in Old Town Alexandria. Please register my vote as a “yes” for the retention of the statue, which is a valuable piece of Alexandria and Virginia history.If this is not the correct forum for registering my vote, please let me know. Thank you for your consideration to this important issue.” – Patricia G. Sandberg
”……Pope Francis concluded his public visit to us saying, rather low-toned but reflectively, “Pray for me…don’t forget.” It is said that the most invisible art is public art. The Art of Appomatox recalls all to pray for the times ahead. Take a closer look at it the next time you’re waiting for the light to change….it is an unforgettable masterpiece of human expression.” – Robert F. Murray
Doug Coleman is an attorney and amateur historian in Alexandria; comments and corrections are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org