Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed two pieces of legislation this past weekend which will inevitably precipitate even more controversy over what to do with Confederate monuments. One law gives authorities the power to decide to “remove, relocate, or contextualize” those monuments. Another creates a commission to recommend a replacement for Robert E. Lee’s statue in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol building. The laws will reportedly go into effect on July 1.
Given the events of recent days, especially in Charlottesville, Virginia, I fear that those on the extremes of this issue will dominate the debate and the reaction to these new laws, with the potential for violence. That’s why I very much hope the Civil war community will very strongly support the option of “contextualization.” I fully realize that compromise and conciliation have not always fared well in this particular debate, but that doesn’t make it any less right or necessary.
I recently blogged here about the actions of the community in Franklin, Tennessee to contextualize the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864 as a worthwhile example to follow. After many months of discussion and debate, the city placed several descriptive signs around the public square, which until recently had only seen a statue of a Confederate soldier. The new signs describe, among other things, the formation of the U.S. Colored Troops and Reconstruction. As a result, the context of the battle in the Franklin public square is more balanced and broad-based; no monuments were removed or replaced; and there was no violence because reasonable men and women found common ground.
Here are some images of the public square and two of the new signs.