Northam: Give localities power to remove Confederate monuments
A proposal to lift prohibitions on the removal of Confederate war memorials is included in budget and legislative priorities from Gov. Ralph Northam in historic justice and equity.
“Virginia’s history is difficult and complex, and it is important that we tell the full and true story of our past 400 years,” Northam said in a release Thursday. “When we have a complete understanding of how we got to the present, we are better prepared to improve our shared future. These proposals will help us to tell the story of people and places that for too long have been neglected or marginalized and continue to build a modern, diverse, and inclusive Commonwealth.”
The proposals include lifting the Commonwealth’s prohibition on the removal of Confederate war memorials allowing localities to decide how to deal with these monuments of the past.
Virginia is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy.
Other proposed legislation adds protections and funding for historic African American cemeteries, and creates a commission to recommend a replacement for the Robert E. Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol.
To date, eight statues in the Natural Statuary Hall have been replaced, and seven additional states are working through a similar process.
Northam is also proposing the creation of a Historic African American Cemetery Grant Program, and authorizing the Department of Historic Resources to certify cemeteries to receive annual maintenance funds of $5 per grave.
Though the number of historical African American burial grounds in Virginia is unknown, the General Assembly has certified 24 cemeteries since 2017. The governor’s proposed budget will also include $250,000 for the maintenance of historic African American cemeteries and the hiring of an experienced historic preservationist to focus exclusively on projects and issues involving historic and prehistoric burial grounds.
Northam’s proposed budget also includes significant investments in new historical highway markers that reflect the diverse nature of the citizens of the Commonwealth and $2.4 million for the City of Alexandria to expand the museum at the Freedom House, the site once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States.
Northam is also proposing funding that would restore the Longdale Recreation Area in Allegheny County under its historic name, Green Pastures. During segregation, Green Pastures was one of the few federal recreation areas established for African Americans.
In 1963, after Douthat State Park was desegregated, Green Pastures was renamed Longdale Recreation Area. Working with the U.S. Forest Service, the Commonwealth of Virginia will reopen the recreation area in Jefferson National Forest as an outpost of Douthat State Park.
“Virginia’s history is much richer, much more diverse, and much more complicated than what many of us were taught in school,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said. “For too long we have overlooked or dismissed important historical truths we found too uncomfortable to confront—I am committed to working with the Department of Historic Resources and the Department of Conservation and Recreation to present a more balanced history of the Commonwealth.”
To support the Commission on African American History Education, Northam is proposing nearly $4.5 million for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the American Civil War Museum to support educational experiences for K-12 students that are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.
“These legislative and budget investments are vital investments in our children’s education,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said. “History plays a vital role in public education, providing invaluable lessons and stories we can all learn from. It is particularly important that we provide opportunities for each and every Virginia student to learn from the exceptional historical assets in our Commonwealth.”