Joe Daniel is right. The Confederate statue should come down. Culpeper is fortunate to have his offer. Continuing to hold Confederate soldiers in high esteem represents a distorted view of history.
As historian David Blight writes in “Race and Reunion,” former Confederate Gen. Jubal Early used the Southern Historical Society to launch a propaganda assault on popular memory shortly after the Civil War. Now known as the “Lost Cause,” Early’s view that “Slaves were content and that Virginia could have dealt with slavery on its own if not for meddling Northerners,” became Southern history. A 1950s textbook rewrite assured that generations of students continued to be taught Civil War history as defined by Early’s original propaganda.
As a transplanted Philadelphian, I find the fight over removing the statues reminds me of a similar one to change people’s viewpoint. Steven Girard, one of the richest men in the country in 1831, provided the funds in his will to build Girard College, a boarding school for “poor white male orphans.” While his gift was an extraordinary act of philanthropy, his will’s race and sex restrictions were inevitably challenged, and inevitably overturned.
A proposal to override the wording of Girard’s will began an angry, 14-year struggle, but in 1968 four black boys were admitted to Girard College. Sixteen years later, girls were admitted. Today, Girard College is about evenly divided between boys and girls; 90 percent are African-American. Yet Steven Girard’s purpose, creating opportunity for orphaned children, continues to be met. Approximately 95 percent of Girard College’s graduates continue on to higher-education institutions.