Written by Jack Miller
Following the killing of George Floyd in late May of this year, and the ensuing waves of protests that the country finds itself facing, many people are using this time as an opportunity to become more educated on racial issues, and relations in our country today. Subsequently, institutions all over the country are becoming more acutely aware of the longstanding presence and precedent of white supremacy in the United States that exists to this date, due to the pressure of their members, students, and followers.
The existence of Confederate memorials has once again become hotly contested. Roanoke College finds itself in the center of these debates due to the looming shadow of a Confederate Memorial outside our own West Hall along Main Street. Although this specific memorial isn’t owned by the college, its pervasiveness and position might appear confusing to some members of the Roanoke College community.
The memorial in question, one that Roanoke’s international body of students have walked by for centuries, was mounted by an institution known as The United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization that seeks to memorialize the Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. Many memorials like this were not erected in the years following the Civil War but rather decades later, as this one was, during a period in which calls for civil rights to be extended to Black citizens were gaining traction. Some of these statues were placed in intentional places (in front of public offices, churches, banks or in this case – a courthouse) as an attempt at fearmongering to keep Black citizens from entering these segregated areas.
But following the May burning of the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters in Richmond, public opinion has shifted in the debate surrounding these memorials.
At a time in which institutions are seeking to correct historical injustices, the question of these Confederate memorials must be addressed. Following the removal of many statues all over the country, including the promise of removal of the massive memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the state capital in Richmond, Roanoke College President Michael Maxey addressed the removal of the Confederate memorial in front of West Hall.
“We believe it is in the best interest of Roanoke College, the Salem community, and the greater community to begin relocation as soon as possible,” said Maxey. The college hopes the monument can be removed and relocated following the new law that went into effect in Virginia on July 1. However, since Maxey’s statement was released, there has been no further information regarding the monument or its removal.
Following Roanoke College’s renovation of a slave dwelling and establishing it as a academic center devoted to studying the legacy of slavery in Modern American society along High Street; just a stone’s throw away from the Main Street memorial, it is clear that the College wants to reassess the foggy narrative surrounding racial inequality in the United States. Removal and relocation of this racist scar seems to be an eminent albeit crucial step towards amending and offering a sense of recompense for the historical injustices that are still felt today in 2020. It would help Roanoke College become the diverse and inclusive environment that seeks to be.