A Better Monument Solution

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Dear Editor:

The closing paragraph in the letter from Bill Payne in the Nov. 20 Post conveys the message that the Confederate monument should be removed. There is a far superior alternative, but it will take time to plan and money to execute. That plan is to erect a statue of a Union soldier of recognizably African descent at the same site. Patience is required to allow that planning to be done.

We have a teaching opportunity here which, in its focus and its potential scope, is very likely without parallel elsewhere. Of those men from here who volunteered for the Union forces, nearly all had African ancestry. Of those men who volunteered for the Confederacy, nearly none had African ancestry.

These Union soldiers later formed on the Shore a remarkable six posts of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans organization.

The existing statue is not an aggrandizement of a Confederate general, it is just an individual soldier.

The statue was erected during the Jim Crow period, and this new statue might be thought of as reflecting the progress toward equality made since then. We can memorialize and name the individuals who served on both sides, but this is an opportunity to honor in particular those men who until now have had no public recognition of the part they played in the fight for our founding precept that all men are created equal.

Every person with whom I’ve so far spoken about this concept recognizes its excellence and that it’s a novel, positive approach. These include, in addition to several local persons, the former curator of the Abraham Lincoln Collection at the Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, Ill.; the head of the GAR Museum and Library in Philadelphia; and a historian specializing in the U.S. Colored Troops.

My own experience may be an example of how one spark of knowledge prevented from extinction can create interest in further learning. I became aware of this whole subject because a deification image of Lincoln was discarded, by someone who was ignorant of its significance, into the old green box just by the Gaskins Chapel Church, from where it found its way to our home. Had the image gone to the landfill, I’d have remained ignorant. Today its story, including its connection to the history of the Shore, can continue to be told. Gaskins Chapel Church was also the site of one of those six GAR posts.

The new main library building in Parksley will contain the Heritage Center, where collected papers of local people from that era will reside – including many documents still with the descendants, but which will need a home eventually. These also are part of the fabric of local history which must be saved and studied.

The graves of these Union veterans remain largely unmarked as to their service, while many veterans elsewhere have GAR grave medallions. It may have made sense during Jim Crow not to provide targets, but that omission can be rectified now.

Teaching and learning of history (and much history-related tourism, even without a battlefield) can flow from this project as its center, with both statues in place at Eastville alongside other relics there of the history of slavery. Much of great value will have been needlessly squandered if the Confederate statue is removed.

Alan Silverman, Onancock