Small $ for a moral education

10/27/2017, 6:52 a.m.
With increasingly tragic results for our culture and our future, we witness on an almost daily basis the use of ...
Chuck Richardson

For generations, Richmond has produced countless capable black citizens who have proven themselves to be responsible members of society by supporting themselves and their families, by supporting their communities, worshipping at their churches and helping our businesses and governments to function on a daily basis. How can it be justified that in such a city, its dominant monumental symbols stand for the repression of so many of its citizens?

The cost question is a red herring thrown into the debate to confuse, complicate and divide low-information citizens from others. The comparison is absurd. It is akin to complaining that you cannot afford to finance a 30-year mortgage on a home because you spent money on a pair of socks.

I vividly recall standing with Mr. Wilder when he was a young state senator and I was an unrecognized veteran just home from the Vietnam War. Mr. Wilder fought mightily to have removed the degrading Virginia state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” with its lyrics that spoke of black men and women as “darkies.” Are the Confederate statues any less degrading than that song — a song for which Mr. Wilder spent his entire first term in the Senate fighting to abolish as our state song?

Are the lyrics of that song any less degrading than the historical reality of oppression for which these Confederate leaders fought? A reality in which three-fifths of the enslaved population could be counted to increase the number of pro-slavery Southern elected officials in the House of Representatives; a reality in which, as a compromise to the South, the Constitution stipulated the return of enslaved Africans to their masters; a reality in which little black children were sold to the highest bidder; a reality in which men and women were captured and compelled to labor without compensation; a reality in which female slaves were taken to be raped and abused by their masters; and a reality in which the statues themselves were erected after Reconstruction to celebrate not only the memory of the Confederate cause but also the re-emergence of white supremacy; and a reality that, if it had not been defeated, would have deferred the possibility of a Doug Wilder being elected as governor of Virginia.

The former governor’s vision of education is too restricted. He clearly sees education as the transmission of cognitive skills in a classroom setting. But education is not to be restricted to spaces within the parameters of a classroom. Education also shapes the vision of the type of society those students receive. What contradiction are we teaching when we espouse the values of freedom, justice and equality in our classrooms but then maintain statues of men who fought to curb the freedom, justice and equality of black people?

How do you teach children that they are equal in the eyes of God and man when you leave before them statues that glorify exactly the opposite? How do you educate children about the dignity and equality of all people when the entire history of the statues on Monument Avenue is the glorification of enslavement of a people for more than 200 years? And how do you teach that black lives matter when these symbols enshrine the memories of those who fought to keep millions in chains?

Perhaps black lives did not matter in 1865, but it is through the value of education beyond the classroom that we have come to know better today.

For these reasons, these symbols that glorify a terrible stain on the moral fabric of our nation must forever be removed from the eyesight and influence of our children — and the face of this nation.

The writer served on Richmond City Council from 1977 to 1995.