By Claire Johnson, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern
People have always been complex, making history a complicated topic. When history is distilled down to be straightforward, the reality of human failings and flaws are bypassed in favor of a clear-cut narrative. When national and regional pride are added to the mix, historical facts often become controversial. Citizens of the American South know this well; modern debate over the history of the Confederacy, and its monuments, easily becomes heated.
Though the Civil War ended in 1865, the war continued throughout the South, rearing its head in acts of violence and terror against black communities, now ostensibly free citizens of the United States. While some efforts to sow fear were overt, such as those of racist groups Knights of the White Camellia, the Red Shirts, or the Ku Klux Klan, others were unspoken. In addition to vigilante terrorism, the lives of black Southerners were made worse through legal means. In Virginia, poll taxes were enshrined in the constitution in 1876, shrinking the black electorate. black men were further disenfranchised after the Virginia constitution was rewritten in 1902.
It is a matter of much contention today whether these monuments to Confederate leaders were one such message to the black communities of the South or simply monuments built to honor the Civil War dead and Southern history.
Confederate monuments began going up in Richmond not long after the end of the Civil War. In 1875, a statue to Stonewall Jackson was erected on the Capitol grounds. However, the statues that now line Monument Avenue went up later, beginning 25 years after the end of the war, in 1890, with Robert E. Lee. The other Confederate statues on Monument Avenue came later: J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis’ statues were added in 1907, 42 … read more »