Home Museum institution Just say no | Richmond Free Press

Just say no | Richmond Free Press

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Just because someone gives you something doesn’t mean it’s worth having.

Latest examples: the 12-ton, 21-foot bronze statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue and several other rebel monuments belonging to the city that were shot down last year, including those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen JEB Stuart and General Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury, also from Monument Avenue.

Governor Ralph S. Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney announced plans to donate this collection of Confederate wrecks and jetsam to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center in Virginia last week. Jackson Ward’s Small Private Museum will be working with The Valentine, another small private downtown museum that focuses on Richmond history, to find out what to do with these behemoths.

Under the proposed arrangement, which must be approved by Richmond City Council, the public will have a voice in what happens to the statues.

Some people have praised the move on social media. They called it ‘poetic justice’ in making the museum and the descendants of those enslaved for centuries by white oppressors – and later by the traitors who led the Southern rebellion against the States -United to keep blacks in slavery – to monitor the fate of the statues erected by white supremacists and their descendants to honor the lost cause and remind blacks of their continued inferior status in the social order of the South.

“Symbols matter, and for too long, Virginia’s most important symbols have celebrated the tragic division of our country and the side that fought to keep the institution of slavery alive by any means possible.” Governor Northam said in a press release announcing the giveaway. “Now it will be up to our thoughtful museums, informed by the people of Virginia, to determine the future of these artifacts, including the base of the Lee Monument which has taken on special significance as an art of protest.”

The big question: why would the Black History Museum – and black people in general – want to have anything to do with these monuments?

For centuries we have had to deal with white people and all their “stuff” – their houses, their kitchens, their laundry, their children, their crops, their cattle, their businesses – first on the plantations and later on. as “engaged” workers. . Why do we now want to have the burden of taking care of their statues?

Why should the Black History Museum divert its time, attention and resources to dealing with these remnants of hate?

Until now, the state and the city were responsible for the storage, maintenance and security of the statues. What will happen when the statues suddenly belong to the Black History Museum? Will the museum – not quite aware of the money – have to pay these bills?

How many of the museum’s current loyal donors would be willing to continue giving knowing that their money will be spent to properly protect this new Confederate cache which the city estimates to be worth $ 12 million?

We believe many will turn to directed giving, stipulating that their donations will be targeted to specific areas and not to the support or maintenance of Confederate statues.

For years, we at the Free Press have called for the symbols of white supremacy and racial oppression on Monument Avenue to be erased from the city’s landscape. And we are glad that they have now been withdrawn. We have recommended in the past that they be donated or sold to the National Park Service Civil War battlefields or other related historical sites, such as birthplaces or Civil War museums or cemeteries, as contextual artifacts.

Since their removal in mid-2020, the statues have become something of an albatross around the neck of the city of Richmond, who have wondered what to do with them. At the end of 2020, the city received nearly twenty offers from 17 organizations and five individuals who expressed their interest in acquiring the statues. The Black History Museum and Cultural Center in Virginia was not one of them. Most of the submissions, which came from as far away as California, requested the statues for free.

An Los Angeles museum wanted them for up to two years for an exhibition, the Free Press reported in November 2020, while a Connecticut art studio proposed that the statues be smashed and the pieces sold as a collection. fund for Richmond public schools and charitable groups in the city.

Dealing with COVID-19 and other pressing issues right now, the statues have not been a priority for the city and the Stoney administration, which has spent $ 1.8 million to bring them down. And the matter of Lee’s statue and pedestal has been a political hot potato for Gov. Northam’s administration, which doesn’t want to leave the question of what to do with it to Gov.-elect Glenn A. Youngkin’s next Republican administration, who could very well decide to put the statue of Lee back in place.

However, we believe that the donation of the statues is a burden that should not fall on the Black History Museum, despite comments from Marland Buckner, the museum’s acting executive director.

“Our institution takes very seriously the responsibility of managing these objects in such a way as to ensure that their origins and purpose are never forgotten…”, said Mr. Buckner. “We believe that with this responsibility comes also opportunities – opportunities to deepen our understanding of a vital part of American history: the expansion of freedom.

“We hope this process will elevate public dialogue about our common history …”

While the museum is a venerable institution representing black history in Richmond and across the Commonwealth, the museum would certainly want to weigh in on what should happen to Confederate artifacts. But owning them and being the responsible entity for them is like giving a poisoned apple to a hungry man. This story does not end well.

At the risk of an about-face, we suggest that the Black History Museum organize a charity sale or auction to get rid of these statues once and for all – to make the resettlement sites their own – then use the benefits to pursue its own mission of telling the story of Black people, their lives, their stories and their accomplishments, even in the face of centuries of oppression.

Or the museum could just say no and refuse these “gifts”.

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