Here’s our working definition:
“A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or event, or which has become relevant to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, due to its artistic, historical, political, technical or architectural importance.”
A monument is not an artifact. A monument to a person or an event is not evidence of truth or fact but rather a idealized and impassioned piece of art. A monument is a reflection of the time period in which it was erected, and we do not use monuments as primary sources for studying the historical event or person that is depicted. Right?
Here is Richmond’s Lee monument, dedicated and unveiled in 1890 in front of 100,000 people, built by Black workers. The monument was not created at the end of the Civil War, but rather 25 years later, as White Richmond residents fought back against the gains that newly-freed Black citizens had made in Richmond’s civic life during Reconstruction. The Lee monument, is not a historic representation of Robert E. Lee, in fact the sculptor, Marius Jean Antonin Mercié, rejected a photograph of Lee to use for reference because Lee’s horse was not as heroic enough for the idealistic depiction of horse and rider. Equestrian sculptures first used in ancient Rome to remind Romans of how powerful their emperors were, were erected all over Western Europe throughout history and became popular with absolute rulers such as Charlemagne and later, Napoleon. Lee’s monument was no different. Its purpose was to terrorize Black Richmonders into submission.
Again, the Lee Monument is not a historical artifact from the Civil War, but a symbol of terror. Until now.
Since June 1st, the Lee Monument has for the first time become an artifact. The graffiti-decorated version now serves as a primary source from the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020. The monument now shows the marks from the struggle to end police murders of Black human beings. The history of these monuments has been righted and now it is time to take these monuments to White supremacy down. Taking them down does not “erase history” as many are complaining, because the monuments are not historical artifacts. The battlefields of the Civil War remain. Plantations with their “slave quarters” have been preserved for future generations to learn from. Nobody will forget the Civil War if the monuments disappear. Take them down. They are vestiges of terror. They are commemorations of hate. Black citizens in Richmond live with the effects of racist systems that have created generations of inequities in health care, education, housing, policing, incarceration, wealth, and civic participation. When the monuments come down, this oppression will not magically go away. Once you are done calling for those symbols of terror to be taken down, the real work will remain. There are many people in Richmond who are doing the work already, who have been calling out and struggling to end the systems that we have upheld for a very long time. Join them. Destroy, and then BUILD.
Like these people: