Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is it necessary to file a lawsuit? Isn’t the disposition of the statues a political question to be decided by the City?
A: Virginia law prohibits the City from removing or otherwise disturbing the monuments. City Council recklessly disregarded the law. If the City for political reasons wants to remove monuments, the City should seek changes to the law (as it has now vowed to do). This case is about the rule of law. As to respecting the political process, courtesy and a need for brevity prevent detailing the many shortcomings of this particular misadventure. The process failed us.
Q: Didn’t a court in Danville hold that Virginia law does not apply to war memorials erected prior to 1997? How do you answer that?
A: Charlottesville Judge Moore decided in our case that the Danville decision erred. The Danville case was about a flag and a house, not war monuments and veterans memorials. Judge Moore concluded neither the 1997 amendment nor any others were meant to strip existing monuments of legal protection. After his ruling, Charlottesville's monuments enjoy the full protection of Virginia law.
Q: The statues were erected in the 1920's to promote the narrative of the “lost cause” which denied slavery had a role in the outbreak of the Civil War. Why are they still relevant today?
A: That premise is itself historically inaccurate. The truth is these sorts of statues were put up by both North and South in a wave of nostalgia; a collective tribute to fathers, brothers, grandfathers, veterans now dying or dead. All wars are fought at least twice: once on the battlefield and later in the memories, histories and narratives of the participants and their descendants. The monuments are in the words of historian Gary Gallagher "historical evidence" -- a tangible connection to the past, a catalyst for memory. They commemorate the most important event in the history of the United States since its Founding, and (detractors say) remind also of the Jim Crow era in which they were erected. What better way to teach about slavery than to ask what if Lee had won? How better to address the dissimulation of the Lost Cause? But if we remove the monuments we are trying to hide our own history, destroying irreplaceable historical evidence, works of art, and for what? What do we gain? An empty lawn teaches nothing.
Q: How do you answer the charge that Lee and Jackson were traitors to their country?
A: It is hard to imagine now, but at the time secession was believed to be a political right. None other than Abraham Lincoln said on the floor of the House in 1847 that "[a]ny people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better." He was speaking of Texas seceding from Mexico with the support of the US Army, just fourteen years before the Civil War. It started with Mexico abolishing slavery in 1829, including in its northern territory then called Tejas. In 1846 US Army officers Ulysses S Grant, Robert E Lee, and Thomas J. Jackson (later nicknamed "Stonewall Jackson") fought Mexico to defend Texas's secession for the sake of slavery. We ended up seizing half of Mexico's landmass including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California.
Abraham Lincoln asked General Winfield Scott the question: "Why is it that you were once able to take the City of Mexico in three months with five thousand men, and we have been unable to take Richmond with one hundred thousand men?"
"I will tell you," said General Scott. "The men who took us into the City of Mexico are the same men who are keeping us out of the City of Richmond."
Seventy years before that, Virginians George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Nelson, James Madison -- we need not belabor the point. Our country was founded in an act of treason against England. Benjamin Franklin quipped at the time "we must all hang together, or surely we will hang separately." Heroes? Traitors? Who knows. But at the time they thought it "is the right of the people to alter or to abolish [government], and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This, from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.
Q: Some say that the statues celebrate “white supremacy;" that the lawsuit perpetuates racism. How do you answer that?
A: The short answer is the monuments are like mirrors: they reflect back what you expect to see. If you are inclined to admire Lee or Jackson or the military you will see dignity and honor and valor. If you are angry, looking for reasons to be angry, then you will see only those who fought for slavery, and imagine a cheering crowd in KKK costumes. Don't assume the way you see it is the only way or the right way -- or even that there is a right way. Grievance shopping aside, most people look at the monuments and simply see history. If history is one sided, then it needs better balance. More history rather than less. Removal is not balance. Removal is emptiness. An empty lawn, empty minds, and a city less than it was. We decline to get drawn into the controversy of whether removal is a kind of reverse racism. It really is not helpful to call people names.
Q: Didn't August 12 change everything? Aren’t you on the wrong side of history?
A: History does not take sides. It states facts.
Politics takes sides. Politics is about spin and gloss and hype and propaganda. Politics wants to dictate what you think. History invites you to think for yourself.
Historical understanding may expand, may broaden and deepen, but facts are facts. Up to you to decide what to make of them.
We are endeavoring to preserve our historic art and statuary for the future. We hope it will be a calmer, more reflective, less angry future.
Think of folks in 100 years, looking at the statues. Think of them talking about their history, some of which is being made now.
Or in the alternative, think of people in 100 years looking at an empty lawn. Or a parking lot or office building, which is what empty city property invariably becomes. Which is better?
Q: The Monument Fund: when was it started?
A: October 2016. Here in Charlottesville there was a lot of back-and-forth over whether they would remove monuments, starting in the Spring of 2016, extending all the way to the Summer of 2017. We created an organization to collect money to sue only when the threat became certain, the need clear.
Q:How much money have you collected?
A: You don't tell your adversaries how much ammunition you have.
Q: How many donors?
A: Without getting into details, fair to say hundreds.
Q: Aren't you obligated to say how much you've raised by law?
A: No. We are obligated to file and make public an IRS Form 990, which we did in May. It covers only 2016 though. Most of our operations commenced in 2017.
Q: How does the Monument Fund relate to the Friends of C'ville Monuments?
A: Two separate organizations. Friends was the first to be created, an informal group mostly intended to collect information and to organize. Friends is an unincorporated trust, with a fixed expiration date. When the need to sue became clear, the more permanent Monument Fund, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Monument Fund offers a tax deduction for donations to support the litigation, while the Trust cannot. But The Monument Fund, Inc. as a 501(c)(3) cannot engage in political action; cannot for instance, lobby. The Trust can.
Q: You can't speak about the litigation at all?
A: We're one of the plaintiffs, and we signed an agreement that muzzles us. And that's a good thing: the lawyers want to try the case in court, rather than in the media. We post summaries of the lawsuit on our news blog. Click on "news" at the top of the page.