Ken Plum: Worth remembering
Much publicity has been given to the removal of statues in Richmond that glorified the military leaders who led the Confederate insurrection against the Union that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths during the Civil War. While history books will record the many attempts of white supremacists to stay in power in the South and to preserve their slave-based economy, there was no justifiable reason to glorify with outlandishly large statues the men who led the insurrection. The statues gave these men prominence in a city that is working feverishly to get beyond a past when it was the second largest slave market in the country.
Finally last week a new monument was unveiled in Richmond resulting from the work of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission as part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Named the Emancipation and Freedom Monument, the Monument features two 12-foot bronze statues representing a man, woman, and infant with broken chains newly freed from slavery. It is located on Brown’s Island, a popular park near downtown Richmond situated between a canal and the James River and the location over the years of many different industries. The sculptor is Thomas Jay Warren of Oregon.
Senator Jennifer McClellan who chairs the MLK,Jr. Commission and worked to make the monument a reality for more than a decade presided over the unveiling. Governor Ralph Northam who has worked tirelessly during his administration to remove racism from Virginia’s laws and institutions spoke.
Northam said that “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. These statues are symbols of a Virginia that is reckoning with ugliness and inequality…a Virginia that tells the truth of our past can build a better future together.” He added, “These statues are symbols of hope and freedom and the enduring will to fight for that freedom.”
National news outlets covered the unveiling for its significance of such an event in the former capital of the Confederacy. All mentioned the fact that the monument was unveiled two weeks after the enormous statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue was taken down. Numerous other statues of Confederates have been taken down in Richmond, Charlottesville, and other locations in Virginia over the last couple of years. A more accurate story of Virginia is being portrayed in new statues and memorials on Capitol grounds and throughout the Commonwealth.
The new memorial honors those who fought against slavery before Emancipation and those who fought for equality since. The pedestal of the statue includes the names, images, and stories of ten Virginians including five who fought against slavery and five who fought for equality. Fighting against slavery included Nat Turner and Dred Scott. Recognized for fighting for equality are John Mercer Langston, Virginia’s first African American member of Congress, and Rosa Dixon Bowser, who founded the first teacher association for Black teachers. Awardees were selected by the MLK Jr. Commission after extensive public hearings. For a full list as well as a list of finalists, visit http://mlkcommission.dls.virginia.gov. These are people worth remembering!
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.