Learn­ing the ter­ri­ble truth about slav­ery

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - EDITORIAL PAGE -


Ben Rags­dale’s let­ter, “Move the stat­ues and get on with the work,” in­cludes the im­por­tant point of sym­bol­ism in re­mov­ing mon­u­ments com­mem­o­rat­ing the Civil War, specif­i­cally Mon­u­ment Av­enue’s Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als. Re­moval of the stat­ues sig­nals to all our com­mit­ment to coming to­gether as one. There is no ques­tion of the aes­thet­ics of the finely sculpted statue of Robert E. Lee, but I know it should be off its pedestal and placed in a mu­seum where it may be ad­mired and ex­plained in the con­text of its time.

My own child­hood was spent in ru­ral Pied­mont, dur­ing the days of Jim Crow. My fa­ther’s fam­ily had lived there for more than 300 years. My up­bring­ing was filled with in­cor­rect his­tory lessons about slav­ery, the Civil War, and blacks in gen­eral. Learn­ing and liv­ing with the truth is an on­go­ing process for me and for any­one who grew up filled with “Gone with the Wind”-in­spired ro­man­tic no­tions.

Three books have par­tic­u­larly given me a vastly clearer un­der­stand­ing of the truth: Is­abel Wil­liamson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” a non-fic­tion ac­count of those liv­ing un­der Jim Crow; Ya Gyasi’s, “Home­com­ing,” a novel of slav­ery over the gen­er­a­tions in one fam­ily, and Colson White­head’s sear­ing novel, “The Un­der­ground Rail­road,” a vivid story of slaves’ lives. That book left me with no ques­tion about the stat­ues’ re­moval.



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