A few years ago the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville, VA led to riots in that city. Several people were injured and at least one, Heather Heyer, was killed after James Alex Fields, Jr. drove a Dodge Charger into the crowd. President Trump was eventually asked about the riots and his comments created a firestorm across the country. Now Robert E. Lee’s statue is being removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA. Crowds of Virginians cheered the removal of the 21-foot statue of general Lee riding a horse. Governor Ralph Northam called the event a historic day for Virginia:
Governor Ralph Northam: Thanks to all of you who have been apart of this historic day for the commonwealth of Virginia. This is a long time coming, part of the healing process for Virginia to move forward, to embrace diversity, to be a welcoming state, to be inclusive and let to people know that our lights are on and our door are open. A lot of effort has gone into this. A lot of effort has gone into this. I want to thank the city of Richmond, the people of Richmond and people all across the commonwealth for doing the right thing.
After 402 years of this history that we should not be proud of this is a step in the right direction. It’s a big day for Virginia and I thank all of you for being a part of it. Congratulations Virginia.
Taking down Robert E. Lee’s statue is symbolic, but the question remains, “So what?” What is going to change for black Americans in Virginia or throughout the south? To take down Robert E. Lee’s statue and still have structural racism or structural inequality in the state seems to be mere pomp and circumstance. Northam’s comments contrast with those of Ralph Baker, author of Shock Exchange: How Inner-City Kids From Brooklyn Predicted the Great Recession and the Pain Ahead.
Virginia has a very progressive bent to it, witnessed by the success of the Readjuster party during a brief period during Reconstruction. During this period of heightened inequality where white Americans control 99.9% of the resources, removing statues a progress is intellectually dishonest.