Statues for Me But Not for Thee

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.

— JAB

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56 responses to “Statues for Me But Not for Thee

  1. I suspect the Governor accepted the carve outs to fatten the vote, rather than requested them. Jackson is highly identified with VMI, where he taught before that war (as is Lee identified with its neighboring college.) Jackson is also buried on the other side of town. It is a logical placement for that statue (far better than the one on Monument Avenue), but the General Assembly or the Board of Visitors have the authority to move him later, should they choose. And Jim, as previously noted, only a fool seeks…..(can’t fill it in?…consistency in the halls of the General Assembly.)

  2. Stonewall Jackson knowingly and purposely violated Virginia law by setting up a Presbyterian Sunday School for blacks in Lexington that taught reading. Says a lot about the Commonwealth and Jackson.

  3. There are some that have reason to remain. For example, the Confederate war dead monument at Point Lookout, MD, should remain as a reminder of the extreme cruelty man will inflict on his fellow man.

    Same for the Union war dead at Andersonville. Oh wait, they didn’t see fit to raise one there.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I noticed this back when the bill was being forged. One of the only carrots preservationists won. The law also repeals Chapter 119 of the Acts of Assembly 1890. Anybody know what this is? I have searched and turned up nothing.
    Here you can find all of the monuments at VMI. I did not know the story of civil rights hero Jonathan Daniels. The works of Sir Moses Ezekiel are on display at VMI. He was considered a master of sculpture once. Ezekiel’s monument at Arlington National Cemetery is one of the best. Perhaps the law not only attempts to preserve Jackson but also the monuments to the fallen cadets at VMI/Battle of New Market. The movie “Field of Lost Shoes” is a good war movie that might have been overlooked.
    https://vmi.edu/archives/vmi-archives-faqs/statues-and-monuments-at-vmi/

    • Gosh, that was a terrible movie! Speaking of that ancestor mentioned above, if his unit (quite green even in 1863) had not broken and ran at New Market, Breckinridge would not have needed to put in the cadets. 30th Virginia Sharpshooters, Echols’ Brigade. They’d been on garrison duty in SW Virginia and many saw the elephant for the first time at New Market.

      You’d probably need to go to the Capitol or State Library to find an 1890 Acts of Assembly book. Dick and I are probably two of the five or six left who know how to do that! And yes, all Virginians should know the story of Cadet Daniels and his tragic death — his name graces the other arch into the barracks as I recall. My first job out of college was in Lexington, and I got to know that school well. Never regretted not attending…

      Oh, “saw the elephant?” A common Civil War euphemism for first time in combat.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        When the dust settles in Richmond I will do just that! I get a kick out of digging up hard to find history. The 30th Virginia Sharpshooters Battalion saw a lot of hard fighting in the Shenandoah Valley. Still your ancestor probably made it all the way to Fort Stevens during Early’s 1864 Raid on Washington DC. He stepped foot under arms within the boundaries of the District of Columbia. Not many rebels can claim this.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        You are so right about Cadet Daniel’s story. It should be a required lesson for the 4th and 11th graders in US History. A true inspiration and tribute to the courage of the men from VMI.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Mr. Haner and Mr. Dick. I found it. I told you I would find it. I have a good nose for finding hidden history. Chapter 119 of the Virginia Acts of Assembly. It looks like the state law that permitted Alexandria to play the “Appomattox Monument” in Alexandria. There is more language that essentially stated nobody could take this statue down. Your tip of researching the State Supreme Court library was spot on. The librarian took mercy on me and looked up the chapter and sent me a pdf.
        CHAP. 119.-An ACT ratifying and confirming the action of the city
        council of Alexandria, allowing R. E. Lee camp of Confederate veterans
        to erect a monument to the Confederate dead at intersection of
        Prince and Washington streets, in the city of Alexandria, Virginia.

        The Alexandria UDC was pretty sharp and must have figured out what Ch 119 meant in the bill. They removed the statue and base without anybody knowing it was going to happen. I have no idea what the UDC plans to do with this statue now.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appomattox_(statue)

  5. Statues and monuments are not “history” – they are memorials to historical figures and events that are well documented in written history that will remain forever.

    Making the “history” argument at the same time we ignore other “history” like Jim Crow and the United Daughters of the Confederacy is basically selective history.

    Statues that offend a significant percentage of our citizens – do not belong in public places. Statues that appeal to values that unite us as a country do belong in public spaces.

    Too many of us still insist on re-plowing this ground – even today –

    statues are not history. They are symbols of historical figures that are admired by some and reviled by way too many others of our citizens. The fact that we refuse put them aside says something about our willingness to try to heal the racial divide.

    We are all humans… people .. and yet too many of us cannot accept that and insist that we are “different” because of “color”… it boggles the mind.

    • Larry is completely correct. The statues are not Civil War history nor much to do with the Civil War at all. They represent the inauguration of Jim Crow, segregation, the KKK, lynchings and a hundred years or more of oppression.

      And what is it with Richmonders and the Civil War? From the first preppie Richmonder I met while in college until today I’ve been stumped by that city’s upper crust love of “The Lost Cause”. What is wrong with you people? Go to Berlin and ask about the Nazis. Look for the statues of Hitler and Himmler. Ask to see the beautiful art of swastikas around town.

      Jesus. Give it up. You got your asses kicked completely and thoroughly in an immoral war that should never have been fought and which set the South back 100 years. What is wrong with you people?

      Next up … time to tear down the statue of that racist imbecile Harry Byrd that sits on the capital grounds.

      Seriously, Richmonders – STOP HONORING RACISTS AND RACISM.

      Why is this hard?

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Mr. Larry my namesake was present at the dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Chatham, VA in June of 1899. He is the guy in my picture. He had hair I have none. Anyways about 100 veterans gathered with their children and grandchildren. There was a parade, a speech by Claude Swanson, and a fried chicken dinner at the old tobacco warehouse on Main Street. They just wanted to be remembered. And they are. Look at us. We are still talking about them 121 years later.
      https://www.victorianvilla.com/sims-mitchell/local/war/cw/mem/

      • James – what picture are you in?

        I respect your pride in your heritage but when I see United Daughters of Confederacy associated with a statue – I know their mission and their history – and so do a lot of black folks.

        A statue to a generic Confederate soldier has some thin justification – better if it was to all soldiers, north and south – and discussion of the wrongness of the “Lost Cause” – but these statues pretty much only recognize one viewpoint… and designate those who fought to preserve slavery as “heroes”.

        I just can’t find a way to support any of it – though, again, I know it’s part of many Virginia families “history”.

        • James Wyatt Whitehead V

          Mr. Larry which statues and monuments have a viewpoint for all? I can’t think of one. Monuments go up because somebody wants to be remembered. They are saying in granite and marble we were here. You know this from walking the Spotsylvania battlefield. All of those yankee monuments are the survivors of those regiments who endured a battle from hell. They speak to us all. Just like the Mississippi monument does behind the McCoul House.

  6. I agree whole heartedly with Larry and Don. Two items below: 1- from a friend and former Richmonder (like me), Pulitzer prize winner and News Leader Reporter, Robert Rankin, and 2- the speech 3 years ago with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu addressed the public upon removing their confederate statues. It is worth watching, it is what leadership is on this issue. I am not sure that our Governor is up to this task, but surely somebody in Virginia must be.

    Both of these are from WAY back in 2017.

    1- https://www.richmond.com/opinion/columnists/robert-a-rankin-hey-rva—why-not-imagine/article_90eeaffa-7a9b-5491-93d9-8de96d29bf2a.html

    2- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csMbjG0-6Ak&feature=youtu.be

    • I do not think Mr. Rankin’s plan will work because it involves leaving one of the statues in place, and as far as I can tell, those who oppose the statues are not open to compromise.

  7. Let me push back gently on the scope of Larry’s argument.

    >>Making the “history” argument at the same time we ignore other “history” like Jim Crow and the United Daughters of the Confederacy is basically selective history.

    Who is ignoring Jim Crow? Isn’t that part of the legacy that people complain of? And if they are not history, then who cares?

    I agree very generally with the “Richmonders and the Civil War” comment. I was amazed when I came to Richmond 25 years ago to find a civil war forum still going on weekly in the basement of our church. But that has long since passed.

    I hope you all are making a distinction between Jefferson Davis, by all accounts not a very edifying sort of guy, and Abraham Lincoln. Not many of the BLM folks are.

    • The Confederate statues are part of Jim Crow. They were erected between 1890 and 1920 when Jim Crow came into being. The message was clear – this is still the South and things haven’t changed all that much.

      As for ignoring Jim Crow … it is widely ignored. Or, worse yet, honored. One of its architects was Harry Byrd. The statue of that asshat was erected in Richmond (on Capitol Square no less) in 1976. 1976?!?

      As for the VMI “exception” in the new law – why is anybody shocked by an underhanded corrupt exception from an underhanded corrupt state government? Business as usual in Richmond. See also: statue of Harry Byrd.

    • Crazy – I almost never hear mention of the Jim Crow era in discussions about these statues – and if we do – how can it be any clearer the intentional insult to black people in our public squares?

      When we have an entire race of people expressing negative feelings about these statues – why do we continue to defend them?

  8. Again, Harry Byrd was how long ago. Is the “systemic” racism, whatever that now means, the same as it was then?.

    • Harry Byrd was – for sure – but the folks who wave Confederate Flags are still as thick as ticks in the summer!

      just FYI – when I use the term “black folks” – I mean African Americans – and I do not intend it in any disparaging way… but more of a ” I listen to black people when they express opinions about Jim Crow era symbols” way more than I listen to the Confederate flag wavers.

  9. All I said, Rippert, is that if there is to be a statue of Jackson, at the school where he taught (and trained many other Confederate officers), in the town where he was buried, is a placement with actual historical nexus. I don’t fully understand why the school is obsessed with its cadet casualties in a minor battle, but it’s their school and they can do what they want. (It was a bad movie….)

    Richmonders should always have had the right to decide on the statues in their city, and VMI should decide what to do with its own property and history. At VMI, Jackson truly is part of the history. Now that The Cancelers have moved on it is clear that they don’t just care about the Confederacy, either.

    • “I don’t fully understand why the school is obsessed with its cadet casualties in a minor battle, but it’s their school and they can do what they want. (It was a bad movie….)”

      I AGREE. Nor should they take themselves in that regard as being so special and above the rest; indeed tearing down the rest while blowing their own trumpet, claiming special exemption. In that regard I found riley.ewen’s comments unusually offensive, a very cheap brand of virtue signaling.

      Must we all join the mob?

      • I think you may have misunderstood my comments, partially. Honestly, it hurt my feelings that you would think I was engaging in some cheap virtue signaling, and for that I had to pause and reflect that if your comment did indeed hurt my feelings then there is a measure of truth to them. Genuinely. Partly I feel that I lacked cogency on this due to how deeply personal it is to me.
        I did not intend to convey that VMI should be entirely exempt from this process, I just wanted to share my personal experience that makes the issue more complex for me – which has helped me to understand better those who would speak in favor of and against any monument across the nation. That’s all. But you are right – we should not have special exemption. We should rather value subsidiarity to the local governments and people on what to do with their statues, and value the valid reasons for and against any monument and take them into consideration as we make decisions rather than engage in mass iconoclasm without thought or reason.

  10. As I suspected, the instigator of the amendment to the statue bill exempting statues at VMI was Sen. Norment, a VMI graduate and currently its biggest supporter in the General Assembly. The legislative history shows that the bill came of the Senate Committee on a narrow vote, without that provision. On second reading, there were a couple of amendments (not Norment’s), then it was engrossed (passed on second reading), then engrossment was reconsidered, and the bill passed by for the day. A couple of more days elapsed with the bill being passed by each time (this usually means that there is hard lobbying and bargaining going on behind the scenes). Finally, three days later, the bill was taken up and Tommy Norment’s amendment was adopted by voice vote.

    When it got to the House, the Norment amendment was stripped from the bill. It had to go into conference and came out of the conference with the Norment amendment included. Norment was not on the conference committee, but I would wager his influence was felt. (The irony is that he never voted for the bill, even after if excluded VMI.)

    I could not find the 1890 Acts of Assembly on line. Legislative Information Services has Acts back to only 1946. Some on-line sites have Acts from earlier sessions, but 1890 is missing.

    • Volumes for 1890 might not even have been in the Capitol or GAB libraries….but the Library of Virginia is just across the corner. Maybe it didn’t meet that year!

    • Norment, really? I always thought they were saying Senator Torment. Gotta get the hearing checked. Wythe too, wasn’t he? Oh well.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Mr. Dick I do appreciate the blow by blow account of how this bill was enacted. Mr. Norment clearly is like EF Hutton. This is exactly how business is conducted on the grounds of our state capitol.

  11. I can call over there to see if they have it. In the past, though, I’ve had little luck getting any information over the phone. Usually they just tell you to come in and look for yourself.

  12. Okay, raise your right hand if you want to keep these monuments to slavery because we’ve come beyond all that, this is our Southern heritage, and there is no systemic racism! Good. Now, raise your left hand if you’d also like to be black!

  13. Interesting article. Stumbled upon this while I was searching for varying opinions on this issue. I am a VMI Graduate and naturally it is of interest for me.

    Although I haven’t read any of your other blog posts, I think I am generally in agreement with you – that we as a nation and a state need to re-evaluate the appropriateness of statues of Confederate generals and those who objectively stood in defense of something that is inherently evil.

    Generally I am in favor of the civil removal of statues and monuments to Confederates, due to their rather sordid history and the general opposition to such monuments by the Grand Army of the Republic post-war, etc. as well as much of the Southern revisionist history which I find problematic.

    On the other hand, when I heard that there was a cadre of VMI alums (mostly more recent ones) and others calling for the removal of these particular monuments I had to check myself because they are not something I necessarily want to see removed. I don’t (and never have/will) honor Stonewall Jackson’s allegiance to the Confederacy, especially being from the North. As a former military officer I certainly appreciate his tactical prowess, but that is neither here nor there. But his legacy is very much tied up with VMI in a way that is hard to unravel. The Virginia Mourning Her Dead monument (as well as the graves of the cadets who perished at New Market) is possibly one of the most important places at VMI to most VMI alums. I think that while it’s probable that there is some revisionist history going on – glorying in the old south, as it were – but New Market to me never really symbolized the “glory of the old south” or the “noble virtues of the Confederacy” but rather the mission of the school to create citizen soldiers who respond to the call of duty – even unto death. Granted, those citizen soldiers at the time were on the wrong side. But the simple nobility of answering the call of duty above love of self is lost on many now and bears some reminding. Whenever I charged across the field of lost shoes at New Market as a cadet I felt that more than anything else.

    My favorite spot at the school was (and still is) Daniels’ courtyard… Jonathan Myrick Daniels was Episcopal clergy alum who was shot by a white supremacist who was attempting to shoot a young girl during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. I loved that spot for his sacrifice of himself for another, for his love and his humility. But in another way it also represented that same thing to me – the selfless call to duty as a citizen soldier.

    That being said, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a cadet whose ancestors were enslaved by the same cadets (or their ilk) who charged across that same field, and being forced to remember them in a way that forgets the horrific reasons the war was waged in the first place. And to salute Jackson, a practice that was still in place when I was there, throughout the Ratline… it seems well that that practice has been replaced. Of all the people who may be offended by the statue of Jackson or Virginia Mourning Her Dead it is those cadets and alumni that I would be most concerned for – because they are just as tied to VMI as any other person who has passed through her arches and strained in the ratline. So I do think it is best that they speak for themselves rather than me speak for them.

    As a Catholic, the belief that human dignity, subsidiarity, solidarity, and charity are essential to the framework I believe we need to have when we consider these things. First, the statues may be symbolically (but not literally, even though the persons they represent may have been) demeaning to the dignity of the human person. Second, there seems to be the thought prevailing in our society that we should treat all such monuments the same and destroy them, which is not respective of the local populace or the people that they represent. Third, it may be of utility for the common good to promote the civil removal of such statues, especially if they are a cause of dispute or a nidus of white supremacy or other dangerous ideas (such as the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was several years ago). I think out of charity for those who are offended and hurt by these symbols, we ought to think long and hard about what their presence may symbolize and what good they do remaining standing.

    I think the aforementioned bill in your post generally does a good job at subsidiarity – allowing for local governments to use the process of law to remove such monuments. The exemption of VMI may also fall into the same thought, however (unless I am reading it wrong, which is a strong possibility). I believe (though I am not certain) that VMI and the state retain the right to do what they will with the monuments. It would be unjust if the local government sought to remove something that is deeply personal and imbedded at VMI. Which is why I feel that the most important voices regarding these monuments are the VMI cadets and graduates who feel that they should be removed.

    It is complex… bad history or no, the culture and way of life there has helped to create some truly amazing and selfless leaders. I wonder how much of that has to do with heritage and traditions as opposed to the military discipline and strenuous nature of the school. They are certainly interwoven.

  14. OK Yeh, Nancy. I’d like to keep some monuments. I like to think I can make some reasoned distinctions between some of the characters up on pedestals and others. And I guess I would have to know your definition of systemic racism (!!!) (the exclamation points help, don’t they?) before I answered that one.

    Of course, you’ve used the classic all-or-nothing fallacy, that devilish subpart of the fallacy of unwarranted assumption, when you say “no” systemic racism and “monuments to slavery”. The devil’s in the details, isn’t it? When you frame the argument so there is no alternative middle ground, i.e., not all monuments are to slavery, or there may be “some racism” rather than “no racism”, everyone is supposed to agree, i.e. that there is at least “some racism” and “yes, we don’t want a monument to slavery”. By using all or nothing, you foreclose discussion, which may or may not have been what you intended.

  15. I want some moved to battlefields, museums or cemeteries. Those that are publicly owned, I want the citizens consulted. And if the majority want them to stay, they stay. This is happening now because the majority, including a majority of white citizens, are ready to see them moved (but not necessarily destroyed.)

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      The monuments are not safe anywhere Mr. Haner. The cancel culturalists cannot be reasoned with. Even the Virginia Monument at Gettysburg will be targeted. No confederate symbology or wording on this monument. Yet it will be cancelled. Just a matter of election cycles. Americans are going to find out this cruel lesson the hard way.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Monument

  16. Interesting paper and viewpoint:

    Spring 2018
    The Virginia Monument’s Meaning in Memory
    Jonathan Tracey Gettysburg College

    Abstract: In the early 1900s, many people began to advocate for Confederate monuments on the battlefield at Gettysburg. However, different motivations were present. Many Northerners saw Confederate monuments as a way to further unity, while Southerners instead used the monuments to preserve a separate identity. The Virginia Memorial is a clear case of this.

    https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1684&context=student_scholarship

  17. They should remove the statues of people like Jefferson Davis, because they were slavery-loving traitors. It is ridiculous that there is a highway named after Davis in Virginia.

    But they should leave in place the statues of people like Harry Byrd who weren’t confederates and didn’t rebel against their country. There is a limit to how much you can sanitize history. Byrd was flawed, and sadly backward on racial issues; but he did promote some improvements and efficiencies in Virginia government, and supported sensible foreign policy while in the Senate, including fighting the Nazis. He also got presidents like Johnson to cut government waste, making several billions in cuts a condition for passing Johnson’s tax cuts.

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