A new law goes into effect today giving power to local governments to remove monuments and memorials for war veterans, making good on Governor Ralph Northam’s promise to use the process of law to rid the commonwealth of Confederate monuments. Numerous local governments across the state have indicated that they will use their new authority to purge the past.
Perhaps this has been noted elsewhere, but I don’t recall it: There is one exemption in the language of the law, which reads: “The bill … does not apply to a monument or memorial located on the property of a public institution of higher education within the City of Lexington.”
There is only one public institution of higher education in the City of Lexington — the Virginia Military Institute. VMI has two Civil War memorials: one a statue of Stonewall Jackson, an instructor at VMI before he earned renown as a military commander, and the other a monument to those, including several VMI cadets, who fell at the Battle of New Market, entitled, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead.”
Why would the law exempt these two memorials? It cannot be coincidence that Northam is a VMI grad. Did he insist upon the carve-out? At the very least, it is implausible to think that exemption was inserted without his knowledge and consent. In the words of the correspondent who tipped me off, an elected local government official who spotted the verbiage in the new law, “I nearly choked when I saw this.”
Personally, I think these memorials are worth preserving. I can’t imagine anyone objecting to a mythical-looking symbol for Virginia mourning the dead (but, then, I couldn’t imagine a lot of things that have happened in the past year.) I have no problem with the statue to Jackson either. He was a brilliant battlefield commander, and VMI is, after all, a military school.
I guess what strikes me is the hypocrisy: statues for me but not for thee.
Update: Dick Hall-Sizemore suggests here that Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, a VMI alumnus, was responsible for inserting the VMI exemption. If Northam deserves blame, it is not for introducing the exemption but for consenting to it. It would be unfair to accuse him of hypocrisy, and for that I apologize.
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