Take Down the Jefferson Davis Statue. Erect One to Alexander T. Augusta

Alexander T. Augusta — a native Virginian, and the highest-ranking black to serve the Union army.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch makes a good recommendation regarding the Civil War statues on Monument Ave: Take down the statue to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.

Society may be too divided to find common ground on this issue, but if compromise is possible, then removing Davis’ statue would be a key element of any settlement. Unlike Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson, Davis was not a native Virginian. He was an unrepentant advocate of slavery, not conflicted morally in any way. He was not a soldier; he did not uphold martial virtues such as courage, leadership and tactical brilliance on the battlefield. And he did nothing to bind the wounds of the Civil War. There really is nothing good to be said about the man today. His statue should be moved to the Museum of the Confederacy or some such institution for display as a historical artifact.

What would be displayed in Davis’ place? Some have suggested honoring General George H. Thomas, a native Virginian who chose to serve in the Union army and who also distinguished himself during the war. A statue to Thomas would be in keeping with the theme of Civil War generals on Monument Ave, and it would replace a now-universally reviled figure with an admirable one.

An even better candidate would be Lt. Col. Alexander T. Augusta, the highest-ranking African-American to serve in the Union army. Born in Norfolk as a free black, Augusta learned to read while working as a barber. Leaving Virginia, he struggled against discrimination to pursue his goal of becoming a physician. Eventually, he succeeded, and in 1863, he was commissioned as Regimental Surgeon of the Seventh U.S. Colored Troops, an office he served with distinction. After the war, he promoted the self-help movement among former slaves, served as the first black faculty member of the Howard University medical school, and fought discrimination against African-Americans, as can be seen in his Wikipedia profile.

Replacing a statue of Jefferson Davis with one dedicated to Alexander T. Augusta, a military man and an exemplar of many virtues, would preserve the unique character of Monument Ave., eliminate the least defensible of its Confederate statues, and honor an admirable and accomplished African-American who has received less recognition than he deserved. Combine this idea with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s idea of installing signage to provide the historical context of the remaining statues, and we can avoid blotting out all reminders of a politically incorrect past.

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13 responses to “Take Down the Jefferson Davis Statue. Erect One to Alexander T. Augusta

  1. Excellent suggestion!

  2. Yes, this place should be to honor Virginians and Lt. Col. Dr. Augusta fits the bill. I remember reading an article in a Civil War publication about Dr. Augusta. He certainly paved the way for the many black general officers who have and do serve the United States military.

  3. One of my earliest memories is driving along Monument Avenue and seeing a succession of “smudgepots” (stolen from highway construction sites) placed, lit, in the Jefferson Davis statue’s outstretched hand, provoking my parents’ gales of laughter over several days as a new one appeared each time one was removed by a City crew.

    Cramming that statue, let alone the entire semicircle of columns and central column behind it, into the old White House of the Confederacy lot on lower Clay St, would be a travesty. A much more appropriate location for the statue, alone, is the front yard of the UDC Headquarters on The Boulevard. They championed the original Lost Cause fundraiser for it, they built it where it now sits, and if it’s no longer welcome standing in the public median of the City’s Monument Ave., return it to them. I suppose there is someone somewhere who could be induced to come take away the granite portico and column, sans JD, if offered.

    There is an old powder casement inside Fortress Monroe, in Hampton, where Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in shackles for two years after the War awaiting a treason trial that never came (the charges were dropped). JD’s statue could be locked up safely there, temporarily back in federal custody, for old times sake, while the UDC decides whether to have him stand on their lawn.

  4. Dear Jim,

    Compromise should mean statues of various people being able to be erected, not in one group being able tear down other people’s statues. This is pure vindictiveness on the part of the Left and its continuation will reap a bitter harvest of hatred. Tolerance, agreeing to disagree, is the only realistic peaceful alternative. Sadly, it is in short supply, especially on the Left. Our society has become sectarian in the worst sense of the word. We know how such things likely end by the reading of history. I have said enough on this subject. Y’all do what you want.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  5. After reading Acbars’ comment and realizing that there was a lot more history associated with Jefferson Davis, a short visit to Wiki confirmed he was not an insignificant person.

    He was educated at West Post and served in the US Army and as Secretary of War. and advocated reconciliation after the war and presided over the Memorial meeting after Lee’s death.

    there is actually a Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site that may well be suitable for additional statuary…

    But the point, still not acknowledged by the folks who revere all of the Confederacy statuary including the statue of Jefferson Davis is that they were erected at the time Jim Crow Laws were enacted; it was not a coincidence… as, at the same time blacks were specifically targeted to be denied the right to vote, to not being able to use public facilities, beaten and even lynched and no statues of black folks heroes – erected, much less along side the Confederate statuary.

    Jim Crow laws persisted into the 1950’s and in Virginia into the 1960’s during it’s own era of Massive Resistance and all that time, very, very few statues of black heroes were erected.. Harriet Tubman actually has statues in the North including in Canada – but not on Monument Ave.

    Make no mistake – there IS a difference between slave-owners who fought for the Confederacy to defend the continued enslavement of humans – and those who were slave-holders of that era -as the custom and culture – who more supported the concept of the “United” States.. and were willing to give up slavery in order to move the country to meet the promise of liberty and justice for all.. The folks who built the Confederate statues were not on board with that idea , decades later.

    The whole “Let’s dump Jefferson Davis” thing smacks of some sort of sacrificial capitulation to mollify the opponents so they won’t insist on the rest of the monuments coming down and thus “save” Monument Ave. There’s a whiff of hypocrisy.

    No real discussion of Jim Crow and it’s connection to the statues .. which I’m sure that connection will be denied.. but the history everyone keeps talking about that needs to be “remembered” – ALL of it in context , not selectively-remembered parts – – does not lie …

    • A fascinating chart, there. That is the heart of the problem. The jmonuments were erected to make cultural and political statements, and only incidentally to honor those whose names and faces were so co-opted for the Lost Cause. These memorials are all out of proportion to what they accomplished, which was to fight a war which made a massively negative contribution to our Nation when judged in hindsight. Yet, to take the statues down implies that these individuals don’t deserve ANY recognition for their personal sacrifices and achievements under duress in a complicated time.

      What to do? Some combination of demotion of the most offensive ‘statement’ memorials and dilution of their message by elevating the recognition of others like Col. Augusta seems about right to me. Let’s also not forget that Richmond WAS the Capitol of the Confederacy and tourists still come here to visit where it all happened and see what’s left and to marvel at the giddy architectural legacy of the resurgent Southern economy that built all those hames as well as the monuments along Monument Avenue itself. It won’t help Richmond to spend precious resources on destroying what they have come to see! Context, yes; renamings, yes; relocations, perhaps; physical obliteration, that’s sure to prove counterproductive.

  6. Remember, Larry, they were not just being disenfranchised because they were black – the problem was also that they tended to vote Republican. History and Irony might as well be the same word sometimes….

    Your friends at SPLC and Mother Jones have a point, and much of the statuary had a political goal. But sometimes the goal was to sell real estate. And there are many courthouses and public spaces where a monument to that locality’s Confederate dead or veterans is joined by monuments or plaques to those who served in the Revolution, WWI and WWII, and there is zero reason to remove those. I hope in your excitable state you might recognize some variations of motive. Take a breather and read a little Orwell and hold up a mirror, Larry, because you are living it.

    As noted by others, and stated before, I would rather see some of statues moved than see them remain the focus of violence. I’m sure some are offended, just as I am sure others are just posturing. But the cost of “history cleansing” on Monument Avenue will be enormous and is the absolute bottom priority for this cash-strapped city.

    • Exactly. Perhaps the Southern Poverty Law Center should do a study of when Northerners erected statues to Union generals.

      Growing up in Washington, D.C., I vividly remember the statue erected to Philip Sheridan on… Sheridan Circle. The statue was dedicated in 1908 — the period associated with lynchings, the “lost cause” myth, and the KKK.

    • Indeed, I’m reading a book about President James Garfield. When he was shot a group of 400 black men tried to wrest control of his assassin and lynch him. The southern Democrats who controlled the South didn’t want blacks voting for the Republican Party.

  7. LG, re Jefferson Davis, there’s a fascinating tie-in with Washington DC’s waterworks there: JD, as Secretary of War, was in charge of the Corps Of Engineers which was the principal arm of the federal government for constructing big public works projects before the War, One of his top lieutenants was Col. Montgomery Meigs, who built the entire DC water supply (the dam at Great Falls, the gravity conduit down McArthur Blvd to the Georgetown Reservoir, the tunnel under Rock Creek to the McMillan Reservoir, providing the water supply to the federal complexes e.g. in downtown and Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard). Meigs also accomplished major rebuilding of the Capitol (new wings, start of the new dome) before the War intervened and he was tapped as Quatermaster-General. Jefferson Davis was Meigs’ mentor and political protector in Congress through those patronage-riddled times – except when Davis himself was ousted for a time in the 1850s (because he refused to feed the demands of the patronage machine in Congress) and a more-compliant Virginian ex-Gov named Floyd was installed to grant federal contracts to the ‘right’ people. When the war came, Davis was Mr. Clean compared with many others who might have been tapped to lead the Confederate government. He lacked the foreign affairs and strategic competence of Lincoln, but he was a good man nonetheless.

  8. From a story about the Confederate statute in Lynchburg in the Lynchburg paper. An alternate explanation for that graph Larry plucked from Mother Jones:

    “Once you get to the period of 1880 to 1920 is when the veterans of both sides are getting older, they know they’ve gone through monumental times in American history and so the old veterans want to commemorate their service and their suffering so monuments are created all over the country,” Harvey said. “That’s what the statue in front of Monument Terrace came from. It’s basically recognizing the men from Lynchburg for their service.”

    The same story, which I loved, discussed a statue removed from Randolph College grounds – which honored one of its founders, but depicted him in combat (he never was) and as an officer (he was enlisted) and really wasn’t even a likeness of him, but just a generic Confederate.

  9. When black people tell you their perspective of these monuments – do you reject it or do you actually believe it is THEIR perspective? I believe them and I also believe the written history – all of it – in context… not “explanations” like “real estate” or “tributes to dying soldiers”…

    This issue is never going to die – as long as “alternate” explanations are given and a refusal to admit the simple truth about Jim Crow..

    Throwing one of the symbols of the Confederacy under to bus in an attempt to satisfy those calling for all of them to be moved.. is not going to accomplish much of anything other than some believing that even the stated principle of “heritage” can’t be true if you’re willing to pick one or two to disown who are not much different than the others in the bigger Confederacy scheme of things.

    That’s what drives me … in my view.. I try to see the truth.. the truth hurts..

    Lee was a hero of mine also.. I went to schools named for these Confederate heroes.. truth be known – I attended segregated white schools and watched while blacks were being firehosed.. beaten..lynched while too many of us, including me, stood by and did nothing to stop it.

    I now know – I was complicit.. in my refusal to stand up for people who were being abused… and that it went on for so long – because not enough of us stood up … when we should have.

    Anyone who lived through any of that era who refuses to admit how it really was – and who now also defends the statues .. does trouble me. greatly .. and I do believe until we admit the truth of the statues – the turmoil will not go away. It’s not the statues per se – it’s the narrative about them that is at the root of the discontent.

    Black folks have been terribly wronged – and we can never make them fully whole .. but to continue to cling to a lie – is being disrespectful of both them and ourselves… our history – and any hope of racial healing… and I’m sad for having to say this..

  10. I don’t think any specific entity group should have final say about these statues. You need a cross section of all stakeholders to work out local solutions.

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