Monuments and Memory

In more recent years, the status of monuments has often been the hot topic of debate. Applied to statues and monuments across all eras, the discourse mainly focuses on events and figures that can be considered “controversial” due to behavior of belief. Though the movements mainly focus on specific figures, normal citizens often get caught in the cross hairs. In the town of Abingdon, located in Washington County, Virginia, one of these monuments has recently been the subject of town debate.

Abingdon itself is a historic town. Many of the buildings in Abingdon pre-date the Civil War and stand testament to the city’s role in the American Revolution. When entering the town, the historical identity is one that is extremely prominent. The monument being challenged in these debates stands in the courtyard to the Washington County Courthouse. Originally constructed in 1800, the Courthouse fell victim to a Union raid in 1864 and burned to the ground. Four years later, a new building was constructed and in 1907, the memorial to Confederate veterans was installed.

A-11. Confederate Monument, Abingdon, Va. - Digital Commonwealth

In the midst of recent debates, I have held the position that the memorial should be relocated. Near to the monument site is a historic cemetery with a section dedicated to Confederates. A short distance from that is a newly established park honoring the region’s veterans across all wars. While I still hold that opinion, I can understand some of the arguments as to why it should stay. Unlike some places in the region, Abingdon does not flaunt its Confederate history. If anything, it seems stronger tied to its role in the American Revolution. Many who want to keep the monument in place argue that removal is erasing history. Due to the historical nature of the town, removing it would not be “removing history”. The monument is not celebrated and often is passed by with little thought even though it is in the center of downtown. The best argument for keeping the monument is an argument I have yet to see made. The monument’s current position is highly symbolic. Even if not intended, it stands to honor those protected and defended the courthouse that was burned to the ground over a century and a half ago. While I fully understand the reasoning for wanting it to stay put, I can also say that its purpose of being a memorial is best suited in another location. A monument to honor those who risked their lives for the county deserves to stand either the veterans themselves or a place dedicated to honoring veterans.

One Comment

  1. Some really great points here! WHat can we do with a monument like this one to account for the different experiences people have walking past them? How do we account for that either if we keep or remove them?

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