After the recent (unfortunate) events in Charlottesville, VA, which brought the Antifa movement and some of the often mentioned White Supremicists out into the light of day for everyone to gape at, I am sure that Virginia is feeling like they need to do things “right” (whatever that means). As an example of the current fervor to be politically correct in that state and in the country as a whole check out this story from The Hill; it involves a historical church in Alexandria, VA has decided to remove two small plaques from the wall in their church that commemorate past attendees. One is the former leader of the US Confederate army; Robert E. Lee and the other is that of George Washington (both slave owners).
Wait, what? George Washington, the first President of the United States? Yes, THAT George Washington? It seems like we here in America are starting to re-write history now or at least try to forget it and the lessons it can teach us. Almost like we want to pretty much write people like Washington out of history as is convenient in order to support current socially accepted norms. What should be considered acceptable and even necessary in modern society to make sure we continue to learn from the past so that we are not condemned to repeat it? That is the question we need to answer and, once we do, everything becomes pretty easy.
According to posts I have seen on Facebook from at least one current member of the congregation, the new Rector of the Christ Church in Alexandria, Va. has decided that removing the white marble plaques from the church will make the church more “welcoming” to all attendees. This move has gained national press attention and has caused some people, even parishioners to say “enough!”.
The following is from the above referenced story by The Hill:
“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome,” church leaders said. “Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.”
Washington began attending the church soon after it opened in 1773, and bought a pew there. He attended for more than 20 years, though he appeared more regularly at Pohick Church, southwest of his estate at Mount Vernon.
I think that, while there is good intent behind removing monuments to what might be considered as “bad people who did something notable” , we have to be careful not to essentially erase valuable historical reference in the process. The easiest way to think about the issue is on an item by item basis. Does this item represent a monument intended to glorify a person, place or thing or does it represent a marker which has historical value in that it allows people to find the physical location once occupied by a person, place or thing? I believe that the dictionary backs me up in this view;
Memorial: a (1) :a lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great (2) :a distinguished person
Historical Marker: A historical marker or historic marker is an indicator such as a plaque or sign to commemorate an event or person of historic interest and to associate that point of interest with a specific locale one can visit.
The small plaque pictured above is not the only reference to George Washington at the church. In fact it is not the only reference to the Lee family members either. The church is a historical landmark and as such has many commemorative plaques and exhibits associated with it. It seems that the problem, as the church sees it, is that the two wall plaques in question are placed in such prominent places that they might cause “guests who worship with us choose not to return“.
One of the current members of the Christ Church has taken it upon themselves to raise public awareness around the removal of these plaques and the question of monuments vs markers in general. Here is a quote from their recent request for people to contact the Rector of Christ Church and let them know your opinion on the subject in regard to these plaques; “
in the coming days, i would ask you to call/write/email the Rector to let her know how you feel…please be respectful (angry threatening messages will not help), but please firmly let her know that she should spend more time in Alexandria (and get to know the city’s history and her people better before she makes such huge decision that will irreversibly change the town and the church). she should also learn more about the men that she banished from the church…Washington was so integral to the history of the church that the Washington family coat of arms is included as part of the church’s logo (is that next)?
Rector Noelle York-Simmons
Christ Church Episcopal
118 N. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 549-1450 x101
@CCAlexRector (Twitter handle)
Do you agree or disagree with these plaques being historical markers and not monuments? Do you think that all monuments should be left in place? Lets have a discussion! Below are live video searches on the topic of racism in America to keep you up to date on the latest public conversation on the topic.