Virginia Controversies

Marking Lands

Each of the readings this week focus on marking lands and the history of remembrance in Virginia. These topics go hand in hand, because Virginia has a deep history related to the Confederacy, slavery, and more. Richmond and Fredericksburg in particular are hotbeds of historical memory, bringing both cities to the forefront of issue and controversy. One of our readings had to do with Monument Avenue in Richmond, which has been a topic of concern for many years. I went to high school in Richmond, just two blocks over from Monument Avenue. I remember walking there, seeing the Robert E. Lee statue up close, the protests, the vandalism, and finally the removal several years later. Of course, if was always interesting examining all the confederate history in the heart of Richmond while attending a school named after the nation’s first African American woman to found a bank. I already knew most of the history surrounding the Lee statue, because it was something they actually teach in Richmond. However, the intention for Monument Avenues to be a prosperous, upscale, white center of commerce and living was something that still exists over one hundred years after the first statue was erected. It is one of the last places that I know of that still maintains the cobblestone streets, boasts million-dollar antebellum style houses, and features a significant number of beautification projects. The inclusion of Arthur Ashe was no doubt a step forward, however I feel like it pales in comparison to the overwhelming confederate legacy.

The other two readings talked more about tourism. The Stephen Hanna article is one I’ve actually read before (thank you, Dr. Devlin!), so it was a bit of a refresher instead of a totally new concept. The slavery museum in Fredericksburg is something I knew was once thought of and has since fallen into disrepair. What once was a good idea had fallen out of favor. In fact, you can still visit the remains of the outdoor exhibits, even if it is no longer in use. The reading about Blandford Cemetery tells a story more in line with the dark tourism phenomenon that has rose to popularity in the last few years. There’s something decidedly dark, yet fascinating about visiting places like a confederate cemetery or place meant to replicate the experiences of slaves in the South. In many ways this cemetery reminds me of the one next door to the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg. For such a small cemetery, it holds history dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Yet, like is described in Blandford, you can see remains of confederate iconography. This understandably makes telling stories from other perspectives, since one narrative tends to overrule others in the region.

What are some ways different narratives could be highlighted to generate interest in topics that challenge/accompany Confederate history in the South? (I say “accompany” because the South holds onto Confederate symbolism with an iron fist.)

I’m curious to know if anywhere in the North features similar symbolism found in the South (i.e. glorifying a “lost cause” or holding onto a 150+ year old war).

How does the inclusion of prominent African American historical figures promote change in Richmond? How does the removal of Confederate monuments? What are the problems associated with both?

One Comment

  • Sellers

    I actually think that lack of functionality with the cobblestone streets is a sort of luxury (privilege, if you want to use that term)–residents are less concerned with the costs of maintenance, convenience, accessibility, etc because those considerations don’t really affect them much. The cemetery discussion interests me in part because of Smith’s point about Virginia and US taxpayers subsidizing the maintenance of some of these–which makes me wonder about the Confederate cemetery and African American cemetery in Fredericksburg, one of which definitely seems to me to be more visible and better cared for; it would be interesting to know more about their upkeep.

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