Grow and learn after statue’s gone

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

A recently published letter (“County’s culture is being canceled,” March 3) contends that the culture of the county is being canceled by decisions pertaining to memorials and monuments in the area.

It seems the assumption is that the replacement of these monuments and dedicated schools and parks would result in an overhaul of public memory, that the heritage and ancestry that bore this county will disappear along with them. I argue that if this is truly the case, our problem is not with whether the monuments stay or go but with the public education system whose duty it is to teach and preserve what we know about our history for generations to come.

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The Board of Supervisors decided Feb. 18 to move the monument to the Confederate dead from where it currently stands at the former Isle of Wight County Courthouse. I strongly believe that the relocation of monuments like this one to more appropriate locations is a positive step toward justice and equality in this county. I also believe that it is only the first step of many, the next being to repurpose the areas where the old figures used to stand, to fill the holes left behind by their imposing presence.

In 2017, Colorado passed a statute mandating that 1% of the state’s capital construction funds be allocated toward commissioned works of public art by local artists. The result: culturally enriched public spaces that encourage not only intellectual thought and creativity but a sense of community and unification.

I understand what it means to grapple with the tensions and controversies of one’s own history. I was raised visiting a family farm that was established by my great-grandfather who fought for the South. I learned to understand and appreciate my ancestors’ perspectives without honoring them. More importantly, I learned a sense of gratitude for the growth we have seen as a collective since the conclusion of the war all those years ago.

We are not done growing and learning. Ultimately, it is my conviction that the implementation of a system similar to that of the Art in Public Spaces statute in Colorado is a strong step toward unifying the county after recent debates and general discord. Not only this, but I see it as a way to leave a mark about our community and the history we are creating now for future generations.

Shyanne Hensley

Christopher Newport University

Newport News