RICHMOND, Va. -- A central avenue in Richmond will be transformed when the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee is removed from its pedestal at the intersection of North Allen Avenue and Monument Avenue.
Dr. Julian Hayter, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond spoke to CBS 6 and offered some historical perspective on what the statue's removal means and where it should go.
“It’s a monumental shift in the re-imagining of public space in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Hayter. “On the one hand, this is a watershed moment, in terms of Confederate statuary and memorialization. But the significance of this moment, I think, is yet to be determined. It's going to depend on what happens with the monuments.”
Since the state controls the Lee statue and the ground it sits upon, Gov. Ralph Northam has the authority to order its removal. Richmond controls the other monuments to the Confederacy and Mayor Levar Stoney and City Council Member Mike Jones have said they will pass a measure to remove them.
In the last legislative session, the state gave localities jurisdiction over their monuments.
Hayter said the history to be learned from the statues is not necessarily the history some might see in them. He says the collection represents a sense of the state of mind of civic leaders who tried to shape a specific story from the end of Reconstruction to the middle of the last century.
“I think, if they take these monuments down and put them in a warehouse, it's a squandered opportunity to deal with the narrative of ‘The Lost Cause,’ to deal with the context in which the statues were built,” said Hayter. “What people intended when they build them. And what they represented over the course of the 20th century. In many ways it's just the beginning.”
The Lee stature was erected in 1890, 25 years after Lee surrendered the Northern Army of Virginia at Appomattox.
“Confederate statuary in many ways told a story,” Hayter said. “I think it's imperative that those statues not be removed and hidden away in a warehouse. They need to be in a place where people can deal with them and deal with the history.”
Hayter also pointed out that the statues always meant two separate things to white and black Virginians. “There’s never been any unity around them,” he said. “You might be able to mitigate that if they're if they're placed in a museum or there's somewhere else that people can see these monuments.”
As for the economic impact, and what the statues removal might mean for tourism, Hayter says that can be controlled. “The extent to which it would be a financial drain on the city is yet to be determined,” Hayter said. “I think it'll be determined by the strategies that policymakers, historians and the Richmond community in the Commonwealth come up with to deal with these monuments and where they might go in the future.”
He also said by the end of the last legislative session, he suspected the statues would be coming down. “When the General Assembly changed to largely Democratic composition, and then when they gave local control, that localities could decide what to do with their monuments, that their days were numbered,” Hayter said.