A common technique of Liberal ideologues is to change the meanings of words to suit their agendas. So “illegal aliens” become “undocumented immigrants” and “adolescent criminals” become “justice-involved youths.” We’re witnessing a version of this phenomenon with the “contextualizing” of Confederate monuments. Realizing that the eradication of Confederate memorials was not receiving the widespread public support they expected, hostile progressives are easing up on their demolition tactics and have instead begun maligning the historical significance of the monuments. Plaques that deprecate anything related to the Confederacy are being placed on these historic monuments.

One of these Confederacy-disparagement campaigns is currently under way in Richmond, and is being orchestrated by its new Mayor, Levar Stoney. Mr. Stoney assumed office in January of 2017, getting only 35% of the votes in a controversial election involving eight candidates. Although only in his mid 30s, Stoney has years of active involvement in the Democratic party, working for Barack Obama’s presidential election as well as for the candidacy of Terry McAuliffe, who became Virginia’s governor. McAuliffe is one of our nation’s most corrupt governors, tainted by scandals. There are indications of vote tampering in his gubernatorial campaign, and McAuliffe refuses to turn over voting records requested by the State of Virginia. He also refuses to provide state voting records to the White House commission investigating the legitimacy of voters.

Although Levar Stoney lied to law enforcement about criminal acts to influence a Milwaukee election, McAuliffe still hired him as his deputy campaign manager, becoming his mentor, and grooming him for political office. In addition to working in the governor’s election campaign, Stoney actually lived briefly with McAuliffe. McAuliffe and Stoney defied Virginia’s ruling and restored voting rights to thousands of convicted felons, an act that later assisted Stoney’s mayoral election. A McAuliffe-controlled PAC was one of the top three donors to Levar Stoney’s mayoral campaign. McAuliffe and Stoney are birds of a feather and if the State of Virginia digs deeply into potential voting irregularities in McAuliffe’s gubernatorial election, it might uncover wrongdoing by Stoney.

As the second capital of the Confederacy, Richmond’s Monument Avenue features Confederate statuary that have become important for tourism. Although Mayor Stoney wishes that these statues had never been erected, he cannot remove them as Mayor Landrieu did in New Orleans. These historic statues are protected by the Commonwealth of Virginia and designated as a National Historic Landmark. Begrudgingly, Stoney must be content with “contextualizing” them, i.e., portraying them in a malicious light.

To give the appearance of an impartial community effort, Stoney formed a Monument Avenue Commission composed of historians, artists, authors, and community leaders to research and propose language for “contextualized” plaques for the monuments. But excerpts from Stoney’s announcement of the Commission’s creation raise questions about impartiality: “…it’s our responsibility to set the historical record straight on Monument Avenue’s confederate statuary. Equal parts myth and deception, they were the ‘alternative facts’ of their time – a false narrative etched in stone and bronze more than 100 years ago – not only to lionize the architects and defenders of slavery – but to perpetuate the tyranny and terror of Jim Crow and reassert a new era of white supremacy…. these monuments have become a default endorsement of that shameful period – one that does a disservice to the principles of racial equality, tolerance and unity we celebrate…”

The Commission has two options: 1) denigrate the Confederacy itself, or 2), denigrate the motives for erecting the monuments. Some members might try for non-partisan language, hoping to create a middle ground, but the Mayor’s charge to the Commission affords little room for deviant interpretations. To meet the Mayor’s goal, members must not present the Confederate statuary as benign or even remotely laudatory. They must be depicted in a malignant and pernicious manner. Should you have any doubts about Mayor Stoney’s intentions, you should be aware that he has also said that contextualizing is a “first step.”

Richmond’s Monument Avenue has already been adulterated by the addition of memorials to contemporary figures that rightfully should have been placed in other areas of the city. This Avenue represents a specific historical era, and tourists from around the world travel to Richmond to view it. In keeping with today’s Confederaphobia, the city erected a statue of Abraham Lincoln nearby to detract from Monument Avenue’s Confederate significance. Richmond’s placing an effigy of Lincoln by Confederate monuments is akin to Paris placing a statue of the Duke of Wellington beside Napoleon’s tomb.

Historian Edward Ayers, who has written extensively on the Civil War era, is a member of the Monument Avenue Commission. Like James McPherson and Eric Foner, Ayers writes history that the establishment approves of. Consequently, these historians are currently in favor because their accounts of the Civil War era – especially their favorable portrayals of Reconstruction, accommodates this generation’s fashionable socio/political bias. A preview of Edward Ayers’ potential input to the commission regarding contextualized plaques, is his response to an interview about Confederate statuary: “People of good will recognize that the images and rhetoric of the Confederacy have been used since the time of the Civil War itself to infringe on the rights and dignity of African Americans. The frequent invocation of the battle flag, in particular, by white supremacists has branded that symbol as particularly virulent. The celebration of the heroes of the Confederacy by previous generations of white Southerners intent on states rights and segregation makes many people uncomfortable with the statues that adorn our most famous street.”

Considering today’s socio/political climate, it would be naive to expect the Commission to create impartial, fair-minded language for the contextualizing plaques. The Mayor will not accept that. But a sizable segment of Richmond’s population will not be pleased with derogatory interpretations of monuments that belittles their famous avenue. Shouldn’t the new mayor have begun his term in office by focusing his attention on the city’s crippling poverty and declining living conditions. Easing economic hardships on citizens should have had a higher priority to Levar Stoney than the political cleansing of historic monuments.

Gail Jarvis

Gail Jarvis is a Georgia-based free-lance writer. He attended the University of Alabama and has a degree from Birmingham Southern College. As a CPA/financial consultant, he helped his clients cope with the detrimental effects of misguided governmental intrusiveness. This influenced his writing as did years of witnessing how versions of news and history were distorted for political reasons. Mr. Jarvis is a member of the Society of Independent Southern Historians and his articles have appeared on various websites, magazines, and publications for several organizations. He lives in Coastal Georgia with his wife.

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