Earlier in 2017, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to rename Lee and Jackson parks in downtown Charlottesville to Emancipation and Justice parks, respectively. The vote came following a previous decision to remove statues of Confederate Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
Many communities are debating the removal of Confederate monuments, which number in the thousands across the United States (there are more than 200 in Virginia). Alt-right groups—a loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of white nationalism—are among the leading voices opposing their removal.
As the debate over what to do with these monuments continues, it is important to understand their history. Most were erected in the early 20th century when so-called Jim Crow laws prevented equality for minorities, specifically African-Americans. Historians agree the monuments were often erected to intimidate nearby African-American communities and to advance a movement to depict Confederate leaders as chivalrous heroes who fought the Civil War as a conflict over states’ rights, rather than slavery. Emancipation Park opened as Lee Park in May 1924, when Lee’s statue was unveiled before thousands of attendees during a gathering of the Sons of the Confederacy.
We hope this short history helps those of you who are new to the Charlottesville area understand the context surrounding the upcoming rally. For more context, please see The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “In Charlottesville, UVa Grapples with Its History and the Alt-Right,” which features an interview with UVA President Teresa Sullivan on the topic.