To the editor:
First, the City of Alexandria, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United Daughters of the Confederacy should be commended for the removal of the Appomattox statue without the profile or violence in places such as Charlottesville, Richmond and elsewhere. Now the community of Alexandria must consider what, if anything, to do with the site at Prince Street and the George Washington Parkway – whether to replace, erase or do nothing.
The only thing commensurate with the Civil War, which Appomattox represents, is slavery itself. In addition to the institution of slavery, Alexandria was integral to the domestic slave trade, where thousands were sold to plantations farther South. Moreover, this trade was critical to the retrocession of Alexandria to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Some may find a memorial too painful or an indelible reminder of their ancestral condition, indistinguishable to the Confederacy, and would rather expunge that slavery ever existed or replace it with an exclusively positive monument. That is understandable and the same debate as in nearby Fredericksburg about the spot where humans were sold at auction. However, the erasure and revisionism of Alexandria’s role in slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation would be a mistake.
Likewise, it would be a mistake to commandeer this opportunity to exact retribution against more than a century of supporters or against the descendants of the Confederacy, but who have no allegiance with slavery or segregation today. There is some distinction between monuments and battlefields dedicated in the North and South by the first generation after the Civil War in the late-1800s, a step in reconciliation – at least for some people – and those constructed later at the peak of the Klu Klux Klan and in opposition to desegregation.
Alexandria was not and is not a bystander of history. The 131-year existence of Appomattox, from 1889 to 2020, is a testament to the severity of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation, which continues to reverberate today. How about:
“This site is rededicated to the lives sold, destroyed and lost to slavery in Alexandria.
From 1695 to 1861 thousands were held or traded into slavery, where Alexandria was one of the largest trading posts in the nation.
From 1889 to 2020 a monument to the Confederate States of America stood on this spot, a legacy of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation.
From 2020 to present, this memorial is in remembrance of the scourge of slavery, Alexandria’s role and responsibility in history and continued reconciliation.”
-Matt Quan, Alexandria