Living Lives that Matter —by Jinny Batterson
This morning I read a newspaper account of a set of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday that had involved violence. Clashes broke out between “Unite the Right” demonstrators opposing the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public Charlottesville city park and others who considered the demonstration to be racially tinged.
Nearly fifty years ago, I got married in a small chapel on the campus of a private university where Robert E. Lee had served as president from 1865 until his death in 1870. Both the chapel and a mainstream Protestant church near the campus wryly referred to as “Saint Bob’s” bear Lee’s name. For over thirty years of my work life, I made my home in a mixed race neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, a former capital of the Confederacy. All told, I’ve lived in the U.S. South for over three-fourths of my adult life so far.
Given this background, I have mixed feelings about monuments evoking the Confederacy. As a “white” person, especially in this region, I know that I have often enjoyed economic and social advantages not available to others who are not “white.” I know that glorifying the “old South” leaves out the many cruelties and injustices that made that culture possible. Yet some of the military men and political leaders whose images are carved in stone were real people with mixed motives, living among a citizenry that was badly divided by prejudice and fear. We cannot erase that time or the fears that drove it just by pulling down monuments. Perhaps we can put them in a broader context and learn from them.
I’ve tried to live my life and raise my family in ways that reduce the impact of the artificial social construct of race on future generations. Despite my best efforts, I’ve not yet eliminated prejudice or misuse of power either from my own life or from wider society. Yesterday’s violence in Charlottesville saddens me, even as it also reminds me that the struggle to eliminate prejudice and power imbalances is never complete.
My hometown Sunday newspaper chose not to run the Charlottesville story as its news lead. Maybe by a happy coincidence, the cover story of Its syndicated weekend magazine featured the young adults of the British royal family and the charitable work they engage in, twenty years after the tragic death of their mother Diana, the “people’s princess.” I hope to continue to promote the day when work such as theirs makes the news lead, while fracases like the one in Charlottesville occur less and less often.
Still trying to get my head and heart around an appropriate response to the Confederate monuments that I was used to thinking of as a “necessary evil” in some of the landscape of the U.S. south. Today some acquaintances suggested gathering them up and putting them in a Holocaust-memorial type museum. Maybe. I tried researching reaction to the monuments in Richmond, VA, where I used to live. Its monuments are quite prominent. I came across this 2015 article by a commentator who’s had more recent experience of living in Richmond than I have: http://wtvr.com/2015/06/30/holmberg-tear-down-other-monuments/. We have so much work still to do.