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 Alexandria, Va. decided 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 has provisionally decided that aspect of the Danville case erred. The Danville case was decided on facts significantly different from ours: it was about a flag and a house, not war monuments and veterans memorials. The question of inclusivity arose in what is called "dicta" because it was unnecessary for the decision. Judge Moore concluded neither the 1997 amendment nor any others were meant to strip existing monuments of legal protection. Judge Moore's preliminary decision in sum, is that 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: The truth is these sorts of statues were put up by both North and South, about 60 years after the war's end 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, California . . . . 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; what is in you. If you are inclined to admire Lee 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 a slave owner 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. Most people look at the monuments and see history. If history is one sided, 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: 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 move monuments, starting in the Spring of 2016, extending all the way to the Spring 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 many cannonballs you have.
Q: How many donors?
A: We can't get into details but 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 people. Friends is an unincorporated trust. When the need to sue became clear, the Monument Fund, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Monument Fund can offer 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 avoid having this turn into a political circus. They want to try the case in court. But we are posting summaries of what is going on, on our news blog. Click on "news" at the top of the page.