By Ellen Latane Tabb, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
At public hearings of the ad hoc advisory group on Confederate memorials and street names, some residents declared themselves cruelly hurt by the sights of Confederate street names and a nationally acclaimed statue of an unarmed Confederate sorrowing at the loss of his comrades who died protecting their loved ones and homes from an invading army. They declared these objects must be removed because they think they allude to slavery.
Although they never mentioned it, those speakers certainly must suffer much more at the sight of statues vividly and directly depicting slavery — the Edmonson sisters, sculptures at the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery, the African-American Heritage Cemetery with graves and sculptures — but they did not request removal of those reminders.
Nor did they ask that exhibits and programs in the Black History Museum avoid exhibits, programs and references to slavery, or request Freedom House to post signs warning about its disturbing exhibits about slavery.
In fact, those museums, cemeteries, statues and memorials were recently created and maintained because of the stated wishes of some in the black community and others, with no objection from any Confederate heritage groups whose members pay taxes here. Then-mayor Bill Euille chose the wrenching statue for the Contrabands Cemetery, dedicated in September 2014.
Contrary to a speaker’s assertion at the March 28 public hearing that all the states seceded only because they wanted to continue slavery — and he quoted selectively from some secession ordinances, omitting other relevant information — Virginia and other states seceded for other principles and practical reasons which differed among the several states. Cherry-picking facts to buttress an argument is intellectually dishonest.
I was very discouraged by the mistaken assertions of various speakers about facts relating to our country’s history, especially that of the antebellum, war and postwar periods — even about our Founding Fathers. We know that history books in general use have been written by Northerners who do not know or misrepresent our Southern history.
The T.C. Williams history teachers and administrators with whom I taught in the 1970s and 1980s were unwilling to correct this problem despite my efforts, as I discovered while teaching American literature.
We must do better presenting our history. One suggestion: Effective immediately and until a new museum can be built for our 19th century heritage, use Fort Ward to present both sides, as was done in the past, according to former director Wanda Dowell.
Because it has emphasized the Union side and many citizens are unfamiliar with or mistaken about our Confederate history, the museum should prioritize teaching about the Confederate side until the new museum opens. Besides displaying Confederate articles including Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession and pro-Union stand prior to Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to invade the South, exhibits and programs should explain the principles and facts about the several secession movements before 1861 and emphasize that secession was legal.