Constructed in 1926, the Robert E. Lee monument in downtown Asheville commemorates an individual who stood and fought on behalf of racism, white supremacy, and intolerance. He is also arguably responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any individual in our history, given that hundreds of thousands died when he continued to fight long after he knew the war was lost.
Installed by the Daughters of the Confederacy, the antiquated monument is emblematic of the extreme bigotry represented by the Confederacy. This bigotry didn’t end after the Civil War, and our nation has been permanently scarred by racial lynchings, which were common during the period in which this monument was constructed, and systemic racism, which is still prevalent to this day.
Another monument honoring Confederate soldiers next to the Buncombe County Courthouse should also be removed. Perhaps it could be re-installed in Riverside Cemetery where many of those fallen are buried. A memorial to ancestors in a cemetery is appropriate. A monument to those fought against our nation in a public plaza is not.
We must recognize that the values of the Confederacy are not our own and that we should not permit the commemoration of an individual who stood for such values. It is morally reprehensible to celebrate individuals who stood for slavery. Nearly a century after the monument’s construction, it is long past time that we follow in the footsteps of cities such as New Orleans, who have removed and relocated their monuments of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Asheville must utilize public spaces to reflect the air of the future: equality, inclusiveness, coexistence.
A similar argument can be made regarding the Vance Monument. It is my view that the Vance monument should be disassembled or repurposed, and certainly re-dedicated. I’ve heard suggestions for renaming the obelisk as a Peace or Unity monument, and of course many have advocated complete demolition.