After passing a bill allowing localities to remove Confederate monuments, the General Assembly voted to create a commission to consider removing the statue of Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol. Every state has a statue representing it in the U.S. Capitol—it’s time for Virginia’s statue to represent someone of whom we can all be proud. Maryland is already leading the way in putting up new statues on their statehouse grounds to celebrate activists and icons who actually embody the spirit of America.
Much like the contest to replace our president, it feels as if almost anything would be a better pick than what we currently have. But who’s the best choice? Well, we’ve got a few ideas to share.
Twitter suggested Missy Elliot, Pharrell, Timbaland, and Teddy Riley. We love this idea!
All of these Virginians have certainly done far more good for our country than Robert E. Lee, who tried to rip it in half. Added bonus, all of them are Black, so replacing the Robert E. Lee statue with one of them would be that much sweeter.
But in case you’re looking for statues that are a bit more historical than tributes to contemporary musical celebrities, don’t worry. We have a few other suggestions.
That’s right. The First Lady of Song was born right here in the Commonwealth. In addition to having a genre-defining voice, Ella Fitzgerald was also a Civil Rights activist, using her talent to aid the cause whenever she saw the opportunity. Additionally, Ella Fitzgerald’s sense of style and glamour would make any statue of her a visually stunning addition to the collection.
Richmond native, Maggie Walker was the first Black woman to charter a bank and serve as its president. Maggie Walker was a financially brilliant woman who also used her wealth to lift up her community. We could even have a statue of Maggie Walker in her later years, when she continued her work for the community in spite of being confined to a wheelchair.
Disability does not stop people from contributing to our society, but too often, it stops them from being recognized and honored for doing so. A statue of Maggie Walker in her chair could help change those perceptions.
Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Richards Denman
These two come as a set—a set that almost single-handedly took down the Confederacy, that is. The contributions of these women to the war effort cannot be overstated. Elizabeth Van Lew ran a spy ring during the Civil War, and Mary Richards Denman (a.k.a.: Mary Bowser), who Elizabeth had freed from slavery after her father’s death, was her chief operative. Mary even infiltrated the Confederate White House itself!
The intelligence provided by Van Lew’s spyring was invaluable to the war effort, with Union generals agreeing that it likely shortened the war by at least two years.
After the war, Van Lew continued her public service. She was awarded the title of Postmaster General of Richmond for her work during the war and used her position to make it city policy to hire and train Black people to work in post offices.
Unfortunately, once her war efforts were made public, she was generally shunned by all of her Richmond neighbors. Even worse, the city of Richmond purchased her home after her death and destroyed it in an attempt to erase Van Lew from history, as they feared her memory would be a rallying point for the Black community.
The U.S. government didn’t treat these war heroes much better. While male war heroes from the Union army were honored immediately after the war ended, these two women weren’t inaugurated into the Military Hall of Fame until the 1990s. How’s that for gratitude? These two Jane Bonds definitely deserve to be honored, and how better than to put their statues up in place the very man they helped to take down?
Virginia has some truly inspirational people in its past and present, but Robert E. Lee wasn’t one of them. Let’s replace him with someone that all Virginians can be proud of!