Originally posted to social media September 14, 2021.
After much debate, the iconic statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee has now left its pedestal on Monument Ave., but it’s left me with a few thoughts & questions on what’s next.
The fact is, statues are just symbols. While symbols can be powerful reflections of reality past & present, true change demands consistent dedication. Now that the symbols of slavery & racism are gone from our city, will we simply take the win and call it day? Or are we Ready to recommit to reconciliation, healing, & unity? One choice leaves us with another hollow symbol not unlike the one we’ve just removed, but the other tangibly moves us toward each other in often complicated but compassionate community.
Community, however, requires Authenticity & vulnerability, and with these often comes mistakes. In a culture which applauds Authenticity & vulnerability without granting the grace for mistakes, what decisions will define you & how do we cultivate true community?
Robert E. Lee was a man—a flawed man who committed treason and enforced the subjugation of an entire group of people under another, and we should rightly judge him by those decisions. But Lee also made many other decisions in his life. Some public in the service of his nation & state, and others personal which we’ll never know.
Is it right to define him by one, albeit major, decision? Is it right to define me or you by one major decision in life?
I think we all, whether we admit it or not, hope the answer to that is “no.” But is it? I don’t know.
Don’t misconstrue or misunderstand me as an apologist for Robert E. Lee—I’m not. In fact, this isn’t really about him at all. It’s about you & me & the community we create. I simply wonder if the way in which we define those in the past (or those on social media, or a different political party, or religion) becomes far less definitive when we’re defining ourselves? Maybe they too deserve some of the grace we’re so quick to grant ourselves?
So, the statue is gone; will you be too? Or will you stay, engage, and maybe—with some Authenticity, vulnerability, mistakes & grace—we’ll find the Courage to cultivate the true community we’re all longing for?
Current Comments (June 24, 2022)
Last Sunday was just the second year that Juneteenth was celebrated as an official national holiday—marking the day in 1865 which emancipation was announced to the last remaining enslaved black Americans in Galveston, Texas. Celebrations, however, have been taking place in black communities across America ever since that first day of jubilee in June 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Unfortunately, we know that those celebrations, though they would continue annually, were quickly darkened by the reality that the freedom which was finally recognized as black Americans’ inherent right wouldn’t be enacted or enforced in the same manner as their fellow white Americans. In fact, violence, injustice, and a coordinated effort to keep black Americans from the opportunity which was rightfully theirs would only increase—the echos of which continue to today.
At a time when our nation is increasingly divided socially, racially, politically, and religiously, the national recognition and celebration of a time when our country—after far too long, far too much pain, and for a mere fleeting moment—got it right and embraced the principles proclaimed in our founding documents is vital. Now more than ever we need a reminder of the freedom and liberty which unites all Americans—not merely despite our differences, but because of them. It is the same diversity we so intensely resisted which fuels American ingenuity and has propelled us to prosperities never seen before. We certainly don’t always get it right, but in many ways America has and continues to be an image of what we can achieve when we wield our unique diversity not as a weapon but as a window into a brighter more united future.
We seem to have let that slip our minds, and Juneteenth is a much needed reminder. A reminder that the words “all men are created equal,” mean all men and women. It’s a reminder that when we forget—intentionality or not—our common history, it fosters a common fracturing and failure. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a reminder which presents us with the opportunity to recommit ourselves to the work of liberty and justice in our communities. Because much like the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue, the national remembrance of Juneteenth is a symbol. A good symbol? Yes. But a symbol nonetheless. It will mean little if we don’t take the reminder and invitation it offers.
So let’s make Juneteenth to July 4th a month of celebration and re-dedication. An American Oktoberfest of freedom if you will. Let’s remember the good, mourn the bad, celebrate the progress we’ve made, and recommit to providing liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.
Questions to consider
Where you aware of Juneteenth prior to the last few years? (No shame here, by the way. I consider myself a history nerd and I hadn’t.)
How are you planning to celebrate the freedom we’ve been blessed with this summer?
In what ways can you take action to recommit to seeking justice in the community around you?
Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, live remARCably,
Before you go…
Check out this excellent and beautifully shot documentary on Juneteenth. The history is heartbreaking but there’s also so much reason for hope. This documentary does a spectacular job of displaying both.
One thought on “Robert Removed”
Andrew, another great, thought provoking article. You really do have a gift.Cary Paul