FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP)- In a state where Confederate monuments have stood for more than a century and have recently become a flashpoint in the national debate over racial injustice, Virginians remain about evenly divided on whether the statues should stay or go, according to a new poll.
The poll conducted this month by Hampton University and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 46% support removal of Confederate statues and 42% oppose removal. A similar divide emerged over the question of changing the names of schools, streets and military bases named after Confederate leaders, with 44% in support and 43% opposed.
The question of the Confederacy’s legacy in Virginia is particularly pointed given that Richmond is the former Confederate capital. Protests in Richmond and other parts of the state this year have at times targeted longstanding Confederate memorials.
Opponents of the removal say tearing them down amounts to erasing history. The monuments were dedicated in the late 1800s and early 1900s to honor the generation as they were passing away, which also coincided with a time when the South’s economy was finally rebounding after being devastated by the War Between the States. Several books by mainstream historians make clear the letters of Confederate soldiers show they fought because they felt the South was illegally invaded by the Union Army. There are also several art historians who make the argument that their removal also erases important art history.
Richmond Mayor Lavar Stoney removed most of the statues from Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue. But the most prominent one, a towering tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, still stands pending resolution of a lawsuit. The statue is owned by the state. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has promised its removal. The dedication of the Lee monument in 1890 did not mention racial prejudice and only mentioned slavery twice, when discussing Lee’s opposition to the institution.