This letter is to Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) regarding your answer to the Loudoun Times-Mirror on whether you believe the Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse in Leesburg is appropriate in 2020 America and if you support removing and/or relocating it. I want to say I appreciate your willingness to be honest, and the way you conveyed your message respectfully has allowed me to read it and re-read it to truly understand your point of view. Here is my response, and I kindly ask you afford me the same courtesy.
Throughout millennia, humans have erected monuments, written books, drawn pictures and sang songs to record historical events for posterity. At any point in time, those in power chose what and who is to be remembered and how they shall be remembered. In your response you wrote “The memorial reminds us of our Loudoun County History; It reminds us of death and pain that comes with conflict; it reminds us of the struggles of our past; It reminds us of the cost that often comes with allowing such evils as slavery to exist in society.” However, the plaque on this monument does not say that. It does not say, “This is to remember our painful history so we know never to repeat it.” Instead, what it says is, “In memory of the Confederate Soldiers of Loudoun County, VA. Erected May 28, 1908.” It is indeed a memorial to the Confederate soldiers who fought and died for the Confederacy and what it stood for. So I disagree with your assertion that “it is NOT a memorial to the beliefs of the confederacy.” In 1908, those in power in Virginia, white Virginians decided who shall be remembered from their painful history of Civil War. They decided how they shall be remembered; they erected a monument in front of the county courthouse – a place where both the powerful and powerless go to exercise their civil rights, a place that is a symbol of not only justice but also authority. Black Virginians saw this monument not only as a symbol of the power that has oppressed them for 400 years but also the representation of the “lowly” soldiers who were willing to die for what they believed was their right to continue to enslave them. However, it was 1908 and black Virginians did not have a voice.
It is now 2020, and the voices of all Americans must be heard. The call to examine whether monuments such as this one are appropriate now in this century, is the call to ask white America to acknowledge that when your ancestors made laws, instituted policies, erected monuments, they did it with utter disregard to African Americans on whose backs they built this country. Please understand that I’m grossly understating my point here, because there are plenty of laws and policies that have been instituted to keep African Americans oppressed. African Americans are now asking what their ancestors in 1908 couldn’t: “Why can’t you see that your lowly Confederate soldier fought to preserve his ability to enslave my ancestors? Why can’t you see that building a monument in his name and putting it in front of a courthouse is saying to me and my ancestors that the history you choose to remember is the one of the oppressors and not the oppressed?” Now, if you can see those points, how then can you not agree to right the wrong of 1908 and remove the monument? Nobody is going to erase the history of the Civil War, but for much of the 20th century, southern states chose to commemorate the Civil War through the lenses of the Confederacy. If we can at least acknowledge that as a country, we’d be taking one step in the right direction.
So I ask you and other Virginians who agree with you to consider this last point. Monuments are symbols and representations of what a community or a county or a state or a nation holds important. They don’t just represent historical events, they are a reflection of the powerful. I am a naturalized citizen, and I learned about American history, including the Civil War, in high school shortly after my family and I moved to Virginia from Africa. However, at the time my young mind didn’t understand how people still had Confederate flags flying on their front porch or how there are roads named after Confederate generals. I thought to myself, “Didn’t the Confederacy fight to keep slavery?” At the time, I didn’t understand how a nation that holds itself as the beacon of democracy and equality still chooses to commemorate the oppressors from its painful and racist past. Now I understand: It’s not because people haven’t been asking, it’s because those who can do something about it – those in power – chose not to listen. I ask you to listen. In these times, not listening will lead us to a slippery slope. If you listen, you’ll hear that it’s not just about monuments -- it’s about much more.