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Virginia town built around Confederate Generals re-examines its identity

By: New York Occasions | Lexington |

Revealed: July 27, 2020 12:48:59 pm

The statue of Stonewall Jackson at Virginia Navy Institute in Lexington, Va., July 24, 2020. In Lexington, Va., the place Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried, individuals are reassessing the townÕs ties to a legacy that symbolizes slavery and oppression. (Eze Amos/The New York Occasions)

Written by Reid J. Epstein

It’s a brief drive in Lexington from a house on Accomplice Circle previous the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery and over to the Robert E. Lee Resort, the place locals prefer to cease for a drink.

There could also be vacationers there in search of instructions to the Lee Chapel, or one of many two Stonewall Jackson statues on the town. They may see a Washington and Lee College scholar paddling a canoe down the Maury River, named for Accomplice oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.

If medical therapy is required, residents can head to the Stonewall Jackson Hospital. For groceries, there’s a Meals Lion at Stonewall Sq., which isn’t removed from Insurgent Ridge Street, simply up the way in which from Stonewall Road and Jackson Avenue.

For 150 years Lexington, a picturesque metropolis nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, has been recognized to the surface world as the ultimate resting place of Lee, the Confederacy’s commanding basic throughout the Civil Struggle, and Jackson, whom Lee known as his “proper arm.” They kind the idea of a day by day existence right here that has lengthy been tethered to the iconography of the Civil Struggle and its two most well-known Accomplice generals, whose legacy has seeped into the city’s tradition just like the July humidity.

However Lexington is not a bastion of conservatism. It’s a liberal faculty city of about 7,000 those that voted 60% for Hillary Clinton 4 years in the past, and in 2018 gave 70% of its vote to the Democratic Senate candidate, Tim Kaine. Black Lives Matter indicators dot the home windows of downtown shops, and residents haven’t backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan.

These dueling sensibilities place Lexington at notably delicate intersection of the nationwide debate over Accomplice monuments and symbols. As People protesting racial injustice have torn down statues and memorials to Confederates, the city finds itself reassessing its identification, divided between the rising crucial to eradicate symbols of slavery and many years of cultural and financial ties to the Confederates who fought to protect it.

“Once you’re surrounded by all the symbols, it simply is a lifestyle,” stated Marilyn Alexander, 67, the lone Black member of the Metropolis Council. “It was not till lately that there was a realization for me that there was such an outcry from the group, that felt these symbols and indicators wanted to return down or be modified.”

Metropolis Council conferences in July have been virtually fully dedicated to the query of the city-owned cemetery named for Jackson; one session lasted 5 hours, ending with a unanimous after-midnight vote to take away indicators bearing Jackson’s title. A second assembly started with pleas from residents to place the indicators again up. The council plans a session on Friday to debate new names, with a vote doable in September.

“I lengthy for the times of individuals complaining about potholes and never heritage,” stated Lexington’s mayor, Frank Friedman.

Alexander stated it had by no means occurred to her to suggest taking Jackson’s title off the cemetery, believing that it could haven’t any help from white Lexingtonians. “Most of my life I’ve come to comprehend that these are issues which have simply been, that is the way in which it’s and that is the way in which it’s at all times going to be,” she stated.

For many years, the names of Lexington’s Accomplice forebears have largely gone unchallenged. A 2011 Metropolis Council vote to forbid flying the Accomplice flag on municipal flagpoles drew a lawsuit, finally dismissed by a federal appeals court docket, from the native chapter of the Sons of Accomplice Veterans; till this spring nobody had proposed eradicating Jackson’s title from the cemetery, the place a towering statue of the final rises above his household plot.

At Washington and Lee, college students’ levels nonetheless include portraits of its two namesakes, and on the Virginia Navy Institute, the place Jackson taught earlier than the struggle, first-year college students are required to re-enact the 1864 Battle of New Market as Accomplice troopers.

Nonetheless, attitudes have began to vary in recent times. Grace Episcopal Church downtown dropped Robert E. Lee from its title in 2017, and final 12 months the native Boy Scout council modified its title from the Stonewall Jackson Space Council to the Virginia Headwaters Council.

Greater modifications at the moment are afoot on the town, which has a Black inhabitants of slightly below 9%. Carilion, the Roanoke, Va.-based well being care conglomerate that owns the Stonewall Jackson Hospital, stated Thursday that it could change the title to Rockbridge Group Hospital. Francesco Benincasa, whose household owns the Robert E. Lee Resort, stated Friday that it could be renamed “The Gin” beginning subsequent month.

“It’s a bit onerous to model hospitality after generals,” Benincasa stated in an interview.

Lexington’s universities are dealing with their very own reckoning. At Washington and Lee, 79% of the college voted on July 6 to strip Lee’s title from the college, prompting the board of trustees to announce “a considerate and deliberative course of” to look at Lee’s legacy.

One of many main proponents of protecting the Lee title is Lucas E. Morel, an Abraham Lincoln scholar who’s chairman of the politics division. He argued that the title honors Lee’s contributions to the college — he led its revival after the struggle — with out making a judgment about his management of the Accomplice military.

“We will separate Lee’s generalship of the Confederacy and his symbolism as patron saint of the Misplaced Trigger from his laudable contribution to the college,” Morel stated. “To take away Lee’s title is to say, ‘Thanks for the present of saving this school, however we don’t respect that contribution to such an extent that we expect we should always proceed to honor you.’’’

On the Virginia Navy Institute, till 2015 all college students have been required to salute the statue of Jackson when passing it. A public college, the college has retained its conservative politics, properly after the Supreme Courtroom ordered it to confess ladies in 1996.

However Virginia’s state politics, which govern the college, have modified. Democrats management the state legislature. Gov. Ralph Northam, a 1981 VMI graduate who’s working to take down state-owned Accomplice monuments, “has confidence that VMI’s Board of Guests will do the appropriate factor,” stated his spokesman, Grant Neely.

Jennifer Carroll Foy, a member of the Virginia Home of Delegates who in 2003 was among the many first group of Black ladies to graduate from VMI, stated the Jackson statue ought to be moved to a museum.

“We will’t say in Virginia that we’re open for enterprise however we’re closed to variety and inclusion,” stated Foy, who’s now operating for governor. “No baby appears at a Accomplice monument and feels impressed.”

David Sigler, a Metropolis Council member who graduated from Washington and Lee and works because the monetary help director at VMI, stated renaming the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery must be the primary transfer to pivot the city’s identification away from its Accomplice previous.

“Our small enterprise house owners, they’ve merchandise to promote, meals to organize, they need their tables stuffed of their eating places,” he stated. “I’ll really feel unhealthy in the event that they lose one buyer as a result of we renamed the cemetery. However I believe we’d achieve two clients for each one we’d lose in the long term if we’re not so one-dimensional.”

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