Charlottesville’s recently appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places (BRC) appears to be a politically stacked deck.
Sparked by Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy’s public call to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park, and unanimously convened by resolution of the Charlottesville City Council on May 6, the BRC was given the following charge:
Providing options to Council for specific ways in which our public spaces are used, or could be used, to address race, including, but not limited to:
- Relocating, or adding context to, existing Confederate statues;
- Augmenting the slave auction block at Court Square;
- Completing the Daughters of Zion cemetery;
- Providing a further narrative for the Vinegar Hill community in conjunction with the ongoing work of the African American Heritage Center;
- Highlighting and linking existing historic places, such as the Tonsler House and the Drewary Brown Memorial Bridge;
- Commissioning a new memorial or memorials to an African-American leader;
- Identifying naming opportunities;
- Identifying additional opportunities within the City to enhance a holistic reflection
While the council received 74 applications (download links below) representing a panoply of views, backgrounds, and expertise, no member of the BRC openly supports retaining the Robert E. Lee statue.
Citing the statue’s symbolism of white supremacy and racism, BRC appointee, John Edwin Mason, an associate history professor at the University of Virginia, has publicly stated his desire to have the Lee statue removed from Lee Park. From the March 23, 2016 Cavalier Daily:
“The statue should be removed because it’s a symbol of racism, intolerance and white supremacy,” Mason said. “Robert E. Lee, as we know, commanded the Confederate armies in a war that the essential purpose of which was to preserve slavery and to preserve white supremacy.”
Mason said the relationship between the statue — which has an unobstructed view on its four sides and sits in the middle of the park — and the viewer makes the viewer feel “small and insignificant.”
“That’s never going away,” Mason said. “So if we want a city that does not celebrate racism, does not celebrate the cause of the Confederacy, then we’re going to have to remove it.”
Although City Council’s resolution specifies “open-mindedness” as a qualifying criterion for BRC membership, apparently, an exception was made for Mr. Mason.
Notably absent from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places, but present in the applicant pool are:
- A Civil War historian
- A native of Charlottesville
- A racial balance reflecting the city’s population (considered an important factor in many other areas such as teaching, policing, city council makeup, etc.)
Ironically, Blake Caravati and Frank Buck, both white, Democrat, former mayors of Charlottesville—and both of whom had stacked their own decks while in city hall—applied for the BRC but were not selected.
Given the BRC’s nine-member configuration, Mason’s predetermined vote represents 20% of what’s necessary to recommend removal of the statue. Considering the professional and political affiliations of several other commissioners (i.e. NAACP, African America Heritage Center, Charlottesville Human Rights Commission), the cards dealt indicate a tough road ahead for Robert E. Lee—not to mention Stonewall Jackson, Thomas Jefferson—and even Monticello.
Download and read the full slate of Blue Ribbon Commission applications below:
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 1/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 2/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 3/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 4/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 5/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 6/7
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Places applications 7/7