Today I want to talk about monuments and statues. Have you been keeping up with the controversy in Charlottesville over the statues of Confederate figures, Lee and Jackson? A front page article in last Sunday’s Daily Progress and then a follow up letter to the editor this past week, outlined the two sides of the issue. Those on one side of the debate say the movement to remove the statues is a “self-righteous attempt to erase history.” Those on the other side of the debate claim that the statues are offensive because they extoll white supremacy, cruelty, and discrimination. What do you think? Do the statues stay or go? It’s complicated, isn’t it?
The statues we’re talking about, of Lee and Jackson, two confederate generals on horseback, were commissioned in the second decade of the 1900’s, by Paul Goodloe McIntire. McIntire was a wealthy Charlottesvilian whose father had served as a soldier in the confederacy. The statues were not dedicated simultaneously. The Jackson statue was dedicated first, and the Lee statue a few years later. Both dedications were a cause for celebration in the city, at least among the whites in the city.. Here’s a contemporary description of the dedication of Stonewall Jackson’s statue:
The city was brightly decorated and bands played as Colonel Thomas S. Keller led a parade of some 5,000 persons through the streets, stopping at Midway Plaza where school children formed a living representation of the Confederate flag. A large crowd then followed the parade to Jackson Park for the unveiling ceremony. The monument was unveiled by Anna Jackson Preston, the great-great-granddaughter of Stonewall Jackson and the daughter of Julia Jackson Preston of Charlottesville.
The festivities for both the Jackson and Lee memorials, were planned and executed by local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The only controversy regarding the statues at the time, was in which direction the statues of Lee and Jackson should face (McIntyre decided they should face South) and the correct size of Jackson’s horse. There was no consideration given to how Blacks in the city might feel about the erection of Civil War statues celebrating the confederacy. Do you think anyone bothered to ask? And I could find nothing indicating that Blacks opposed the statues.
That’s not the only statue in Charlottesville that should be sparking controversy, though. At the crossing of two major streets in the city, Main Street and Ridge Road, is a statue of Lewis and Clark.
Thomas Jefferson purchased the territory called Louisiana for what was a lot of money back in 1803. That territory was an enormous expanse of land. Jefferson appointed Meriweather Lewis (who hailed from our own Albemarle County) and William Clark, another Virginian from Caroline County, to explore the new purchase. Back then, the territory was a wilderness, largely uninhabited except by some American Indian tribes. Lewis and Clark realized they would need a guide--someone who was familiar with the land, and knew some American Indian languages besides. They recruited a Shoshone woman named Sacajawea.
The fifteen-year-old Sacajawea, was a married teenager. She had just given birth to a little boy when she was recruited. In 1804 Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea, her nursing baby, and some slaves commenced their two-year journey across what is now the US. They made it all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back. Incredible.
Lewis and Clark kept records of their journey and thankfully we have these still today. It is clear from Lewis and Clark’s notes that the teenage Sacajawea was an invaluable resource. She found food when they were near starvation, the party had been reduced to eating candle tallow—and she made peace with the various Indian tribes they encountered on their journey. Sacajawea was familiar enough with the expanse of land they were crossing, that she was able to lead them to water, easily navigable mountain crossings, and safe, nighttime camping sites. No doubt about it, but for the young, nursing Sacajawea--the mission would have failed.
The statue, then, is somewhat of a curiosity. Funded by McIntyre, and completed in1919, it depicts a proud Lewis and Clark—one holding his musket, both men holding heads high, looking into the distance, as if valiantly leading their exploring party onward. Crouched behind them, her legs tucked under her, her arms shielding her breast and face, is a very frightened looking Sacajawea. The words beneath the statue read, “Lewis and Clark, bold and farseeing pathfinders.” Knowing what we know, though, the diminutive, young Sacajawea probably should be leading Lewis and Clark, right?--HER head held high, and the two men cowering behind. This side of history, this side of the women’s movement, the words might better read, “Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark, bold and farseeing pathfinders.”
As I said, the statue dates to 1919, a year before women earned the right to vote. We might wonder, then, if by means of that statue, Mr. Paul Goodloe McIntire was not casting HIS vote: Women should not be allowed to take part in elections. Women’s place is at the feet of the men who protect them. I tell you, every time I drive pass that statue, the frown lines in my face grow just a little longer and deeper. So, to save my face from ever deeper frown lines, and to right a serious historic wrong, should the Lewis and Clark statue go?
Social historian researchers say that, as is the case with the statues in Charlottesville, “Often memorials are erected by influential business leaders, elected officials and government bodies to reinforce official views of events and to create a sense of solidarity among the populace.” When the Jackson, Lee and Lewis and Clark statues were erected, business leaders and elected officials in Charlottesville may have held views different from the common view—and/or the statues and monuments they erected might have been their personal political statements.
What we are talking about is compassion. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the place of the other. I think we can all agree that compassion lies at the heart of all truly religious and ethical systems.
Since compassion has to do with putting ourselves in the place of the other, and since it lies at the heart of our religion, just for a moment, let us, who are religious, imagine that all the statues in our area, are of good Virginians of African American descent. No white American statues anywhere. So, a monument to Booker T. Washington stands in McIntyre Park, and a statue of Adam Clayton Powell is where the Lewis and Clark statue on Main Street stands now. Maybe here in Scottsville, at Dorrier Park, you erect a monument to the famous dancer, William Bojangles Robinson. Let’s imagine that the NAACP and African American Churches are responsible for the statues’ dedications—and that Whites are not consulted or invited to attend the ceremonies.
How would that make YOU feel?
Or let us make all the statues that are male, everywhere, female—good Virginia females—so switch out Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee and Lewis and Clark for Ella Fitzgerald, artist Patricia Buckley Moss and Rebecca Dulany Peterkin, a philanthropist and founder of Sheltering Arms.
How would that make you feel?
That won’t happen, though and we know it. It would be way too expensive, for one thing, and no doubt about it. There would be accusations of reverse discrimination.
In our passage for today, Paul shares with us his vision for the church and also for the kingdom. And guess what? His vision has everything to do with compassion: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We are one. We are responsible for each other. We are equally valued in the eyes of God, and we should be valued in each other’s eyes. We consider each other’s feelings. We don’t exclude.
And just to add to what Paul has to say, I share with you a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu who has spent a lifetime working to that end: Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”
What Paul and Desmond Tutu are getting at, is, we don’t have the luxury to stand by and do nothing when our fellow human beings are hurting—feeling devalued, dejected, invisible. We as Christians have been called to be compassionate which means acting with compassion. We can’t use inertia as an excuse.
Which doesn’t bring us any closer to knowing WHAT to do, regarding those statues, though, does it?
There is some good news to all of this, though. The good news Is it that we are having a dialogue; a dialogue about the confederate monuments in Charlottesville. That is proof, at the very least, that the minority opinion is being listened to. And I think that means, that as a society we ARE becoming more compassionate. Not totally there yet, but it’s progress.
I leave you with a poem. Now here I should tell you that preachers are often accused of ending their sermons with poems when they don’t know what else to say. I hope that you will agree, that I rarely do that--however, this poem fits. See if you don’t agree. You probably read it in school at some point. I know I did. It’s
from Percy Shelly and it’s called Ozimandias.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”