Opinion

Removal of statue, renaming of parks could hurt city’s business climate

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To the Editor,

I read your article [June’s Charlottesville community profile: “An ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’”] with interest. I am a U.Va. alumnus (‘74, history major), have two daughters who are alumnae and eight other family and in-law alumni/ae, several of whom live in Charlottesville. I am always glad to see the city thrive and continue to attract bright entrepreneurs.

That is not what I am writing you about.

The Charlottesville City Council is making a huge mistake with its 3-2 vote to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, as well as its unanimous decision to rename Lee and Jackson parks. I understand the sale and removal of the statue has been delayed by an injunction, but the philosophical damage from the vote is irreparable.  As a U.Va. history major and committed historical nonfiction reader for my entire life, I feel at least somewhat qualified to address this issue.  

My great-grandfather fought for the 2nd Maryland CSA under General Lee. He was a southern Maryland Democrat and slaveholder. By today’s revisionist “historians,” like those on the Charlottesville City Council, I should not honor his service but rather should expunge him from my family heritage. I won’t and should not.

After the Civil War, my great-grandfather employed his former slaves, all of whom stayed and worked on our Charles County, Md., farm. My father, who was born in 1905, knew my great-grandfather (who lived until 1934) and several of his former slaves well.  

Was the institution of slavery a horrific moral stain on our country? Of course, as it was on virtually every major country in the world, all of which unfortunately engaged in slavery in centuries past.

However, in the context of the times, Gen. Robert E. Lee was unequivocally a man of honor who chose state over country, understandable 156 years ago in 1861. If we spit on his legacy, what about the African tribal leaders who sold fellow African tribes into slavery? What about Democratic President Wilson, a U.Va. Law alumnus, who was an avowed racist by today’s criteria, an open supporter of Jim Crow and eugenics? What about Democratic President Roosevelt, who presided over a racially segregated military in World War II and illegally imprisoned hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during the war? By the Charlottesville City Council’s standards, should we not purge Wilson and Roosevelt’s names from all monuments, roads, schools and buildings?

Where does the madness end?

To come full circle, if you don’t think transforming Charlottesville into an Eastern Berkeley won’t hurt future business investment, think again. Most businessmen and businesswomen are moderate to conservative. Keep it up, and the influx of private capital will go elsewhere. If that happens, then I ask the Charlottesville City Council members, who will fund your pet Far Left initiatives, given the resultant decline in tax revenues?

Thomas M. Neale
Baltimore




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