Last week, Albemarle County Schools superintendent Matt Haas declared a ban on Confederate, Nazi, and other imagery associated with “white supremacy, racial hatred, or violence” from the school system’s dress code.
A few days later, the city quietly celebrated Liberation and Freedom Day, which City Council established just two years ago, to commemorate the arrival of Union troops in Charlottesville—a defeat for those who fought for the Confederacy, and a victory for the 14,000 other people who lived here and were enslaved.
In an area that celebrated Lee-Jackson Day until 2015, these are significant signs of change. But they’re also not enough.
Charlottesville is not the same city it was in the 1920s, when influential members of the community were in the KKK, and the Lee and Jackson statues were erected in whites-only parks. Yet, these monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow remain the most visible signs of history in downtown Charlottesville.
That they are still here, even after the horrifying violence perpetuated in their defense, even after our elected representatives voted to move them, is largely due to the 13 people and organizations we profile in this week’s cover story.
Much blame (not to mention death threats) has been showered on those who want the statues to be moved, but little attention has been paid to those suing to keep them in place. Like the subcommittee that killed Delegate Toscano’s bill to allow localities to control their own monuments, the plaintiffs in Monument Fund v. Charlottesville are a small, all-white group, mostly men.
The lawsuit, set to go to trial March 11, hinges on the interpretation of a 1997 state law. But there’s a broader question at stake: In a city that was 52 percent black at the end of the Civil War, whose war stories do we tell, and who gets to decide? —Laura Longhine