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Elephant on the Lawn

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Dear President Maxey,

Roanoke’s core belief is “Freedom of Purpose.” Among the propositions of this creed is to have students “live in a diverse and tolerant community.” While the administration has taken admirable steps toward this end, it continues to drag its feet with the elephant on the lawn: our confederate monument. Roanoke College’s most public building is marred with the presence of a statue which eternalizes the values of a society blighted by the brutality of slavery and subsequent institutional racism. This statue was erected in 1909 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization which in 1914 published a book dedicated to educating “the youth of the Southland” in the hope that “a perusal of its pages will inspire them with respect and admiration for the Confederate soldiers, who were the real Ku Klux.” This pamphlet characterizes the African-American right to vote as “the galling yoke that was to be thrust upon the necks of the white men of the South, in whose veins coursed the purest and best blood of the ages.” That passage continues by stating that, “Relief from this desperate and humiliating condition came through the Ku Klux Klan and the south was redeemed from Carpet-Bag, Scalawag, and Negro rule.” Their motives in erecting the statue were not an innocent remembrance of Confederate valor and sacrifice, but rather part of a concerted campaign to preserve Southern white political power. It is no wonder, then, that this monument was placed prominently at the old Roanoke County Courthouse.

Dr. Benne remarked in an article last year how he, “often paused to read the inscription: “Love Makes Memory Eternal” which is featured on the statue. Where is the love for the victims of that courthouse’s broken justice? Where is the memory of the terror inspired by the burning cross and men in white robes? Why have we allowed this to be the narrative to stand for all eternity? That statue is a gravestone of a white-washed ghost. It screams “know your place” louder than any dog whistle could. We refuse to allow Roanoke College to be complicit in racial symbol-trafficking.

We understand that Roanoke County owns the property on which the statue stands and that Virginia state law prevents the removal of war monuments. However it is within our power to change the narrative. Allow us that narrative. Give us that change. Set an example for the rest of the state that we are not powerless in the face of history. We shall not cower from the truth of the past. We hereby formally request that this statue be matched with a separate monument which commemorates the lives of prominent citizens of color from this community. There is no shortage of such citizens who have enriched our campus and town. We would also entertain erecting a monument honoring the existence of the slaves who lived and toiled on Roanoke College’s grounds in its early years.

We look forward to building a more honest and inclusive narrative with you and your administration, President Maxey. Your dynamic leadership has greatly improved our institution and strengthened the value of a Roanoke College degree. We hope this trajectory continues.

Sincerely,

A group of concerned students