A Liberal Town Built Around Confederate Generals Rethinks Its IdentityBreaking News
tags: memorials, Confederacy, Virginia, public history
For 150 years Lexington, a picturesque city nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, has been known to the outside world as the final resting place of Lee, the Confederacy’s commanding general during the Civil War, and Jackson, whom Lee referred to as his “right arm.” They form the basis of a daily existence here that has long been tethered to the iconography of the Civil War and its two most famous Confederate generals, whose legacy has seeped into the town’s culture like the July humidity.
But Lexington is no longer a bastion of conservatism. It is a liberal college town of about 7,000 people that voted 60 percent for Hillary Clinton four years ago, and in 2018 gave 70 percent of its vote to the Democratic Senate candidate, Tim Kaine. Black Lives Matter signs dot the windows of downtown stores, and residents haven’t backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan.
These dueling sensibilities place Lexington at particularly delicate intersection of the national debate over Confederate monuments and emblems. As Americans protesting racial injustice have torn down statues and memorials to Confederates, the town finds itself reassessing its identity, divided between the growing imperative to eradicate symbols of slavery and decades of cultural and economic ties to the Confederates who fought to preserve it.
“When you’re surrounded by all of the symbols, it just is a way of life,” said Marylin Alexander, 67, the lone Black member of the City Council. “It was not until recently that there was a realization for me that there was such an outcry from the community, that felt these symbols and signs needed to come down or be changed.”
City Council meetings in July have been almost entirely devoted to the question of the city-owned cemetery named for Jackson; one session lasted five hours, ending with a unanimous after-midnight vote to remove signs bearing Jackson’s name. A second meeting began with pleas from residents to put the signs back up. The council plans a session on Friday to discuss new names, with a vote possible in September.
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