Time to remove the Lee Monument and rename Lee Plaza

Time to remove the Lee Monument and rename Lee Plaza

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Robin Barnhill started this petition to Roanoke City Citizens

After Charlottesville in 2017, I was at Lee Plaza when I saw a few men parading in uniforms carrying the Northern Virginia Battle Flag.  It must have been my frown that prompted one of them to say –“Want to join the parade?” They all laughed and went on their way. With the memory of Charlottesville fresh in my mind, I saw nothing funny.

I watched, as many did, the ugly Charlottesville event in August 2017.  People carrying the Northern Virginia Battle Flag, chanting words of hate, and sometimes these people were in the same group of with other people who were carrying the Nazi Swastika. Following Charlottesville many cities across the country quickly started taking Confederate monuments down but not in Virginia. NBC News Reported “After white supremacists descended on Charlottesville in 2017 to protest the city’s attempt to move a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Virginia localities that wanted to remove monuments were hamstrung by an existing law.”  Legislation § 15.2-1812. Memorials for war veterans.  On March 8, 2020, the Virginia legislature passed measures that changed the existing state law that protects the monuments and instead lets local governments decide their fate."

Now that the Law was changed, it is time for Roanoke to take the right action and remove the Lee Monument and rename Lee Plaza... It is an affront to our African American community. And the building of Civil War Monuments has actually little to do with the end of the Civil War and the memory of Generals. The Civil War ended in 1865. Confederate monuments are spread over 31 states plus the District of Columbia—far exceeding the 11 Confederate states that seceded at the outset of the Civil War. Post War, Confederate commemorative markers of the Civil War tended to be memorials that mourned soldiers who had died, (Mark Elliott, a history professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.) “Eventually they started to build [Confederate] monuments,” he says. “The vast majority of them were built between the 1890s and 1950s, which matches up exactly with the era of Jim Crow segregation.” 

Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after a black minstrel show character, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death. (History.Com Editors –Feb 21, 2020) During the The Civil Rights protests during the 1960’s also involved murder, the bombing of a Church killing little girls and eventually the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

Considering that the majority of Civil War action happened in other parts of Virginia, Roanoke doesn’t need a Robert E Lee Monument.  Post Civil War Roanoke was known as the town of Big Lick and was chartered in 1874 and in 1882, it became the town of Roanoke, and in 1884 it was chartered as the independent city of Roanoke, so it was not even here during the Civil War. Of historical note, the Gainesboro community was also evolving at that time and was called Old Lick between the 1850s and 1880s. Old Lick became present-day Gainesboro and began to develop as a predominantly African-American community.[3] In 1882, Old Lick and Big Lick would incorporate as Roanoke, and most of its development which still stands today occurred between 1890 and 1940. The urban renewal programs of the 1960s and 1970s changed the Gainesboro neighborhood forever.  The Roanoke Civic Center now stands on land that once belonged to African Americans. Houses and businesses were torn down displacing many families and businesses in the neighborhood and changed the overall urban fabric and character of the neighborhood until this day.

People can argue all day long about history, causes for the war but 1 fact remains as truth.   Slavery was one of the issues of the War. Slavery was addressed in the Confederate Constitution.  Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way:  and Article IV, Section 2 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery: "The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired."

Civil War Monuments that are not Commemorative Memorials to the fallen should to be removed so healing can begin.   The erection of the Monuments occurred during a time of great suppression of the African Americans. Monuments erected during the time of terror from the KKK, White Robed men who terrorized, murdered and tried to prevent African Americans from having the rights given that all American were promised. In fact, the Lee monument was not installed in Roanoke until the early 1960s, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the United States Supreme Court, and during the era of Massive Resistance to school integration in Virginia.  The Roanoke City Courthouse, diagonally across the intersection of Church Avenue and Third Street, is now named the Oliver White Hill Justice Center in honor of one of the attorneys who argued against school segregation in the Brown case.  How is it appropriate to maintain a monument to Lee so near the building that celebrates one of Virginia’s great civil rights leaders? 

Prior to 1861, Lee was one of the top generals in the United States Army, serving in the Mexican War and as Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point.  To hold his position as an officer, he took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.  In taking up arms against his country, he violated that oath and committed treason as defined by Article III, Section 3, of that Constitution. 

Still to this day rights are not equal. African Americans convicted of the same crimes as their white counter parts and all things being identical, results in African Americans getting longer jail sentences. Citizens who want to honor Lee for what he did before and after the Civil War have every right to do so on private property, while citizens of Roanoke have every right to insist that monuments on public property reflect the values of liberty and justice for all.

I submit that now is the time to remove the Lee monument and to change the name of Lee Plaza. It is time to recognize the pain and suffering the monuments represent that has continued till this day. Please sign the Petition and share it.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 5,000!
At 5,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!