War Memorials, Monuments and Military Museums in Virginia

skyline of Richmond, reflected in windows of Virginia War Memorial behind 23' tall marble statue Memory
skyline of Richmond, reflected in windows of Virginia War Memorial behind 23' tall marble statue "Memory"
Source: Jos1etheDog, Flickr

The Virginia focus on history and heritage includes honoring soldiers and sailors who have fought in various wars. The decisions on who to honor, and who to omit, reflect attitudes of those with political power of the time that monuments and memorials were erected.

The veneration of Confederates after the Civil War peaked as that generation as dying after 1890, and as Jim Crow laws established legal segregation. Within the African-American community, the erection of monuments was controversial. Within the newspapers at the time, those objections were rarely noted outside of the press focused on a black audience.

Segregationist attitudes were dominant when World War I memorials were placed on courthouse grounds. For example, the three African-American men from Loudoun County who gave the "last full measure" were included on the World War I memorial plaque in 1921, but not listed alphabetically. Their names were separated from the white soldiers, and placed at the bottom.

In 2020, after a period of national racial re-examination following the death of George Floyd while in policy custody, the American Legion supported revising the plaque. Loudoun County agreed that the War Memorial Trust Fund could be used to replace the plaque with one listing soldiers alphabetically.1

the memorial plaque on Loudoun County courthouse grounds segregated the names of the three African-American soldiers who died in World War I
the memorial plaque on Loudoun County courthouse grounds segregated the names of the three African-American soldiers who died in World War I (photographed August, 2020)

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services is responsible for the Virginia War Memorial, designed to honor all Virginia veterans of all wars. The memorial is located on a bluff overlooking the James River in Richmond.

It was initially opened in 1956, to honor those who served - and especially those who died - in World War II and Korea. A $26 million expansion began in 2017, to provide space for the names and stories of veterans involved in the Global War on Terror.2

Other memorials commemorate the many military conflicts which occurred within Virginia, and those outside the state boundaries in which Virginians were involved.

At Jamestown, the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia have reconstructed portions of the walls at the site of the original fort which played such an important role in the first Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-13). The Commonwealth of Virginia, through the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, built a replica of the fort in 1957 for the 350th anniversary of English colonization. The two sites tell the stories of both the original Virginia residents led by Wahasunacock (Powhatan) and the English colonists led by a series of Council Presidents (including John Smith) and then governors appointed by the Virginia Company.

Nearby, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation manages the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Almost every courthouse in Virginia has a statue nearby commemorating the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. All but one of the statues along Monument Avenue in Richmond honor Confederate leaders. The city is currently debating how to place them into historical and cultural context, and/or move them.3

A similar debate in Charlottesville brought white nationalists to that city for a Unite the Right rally in August, 2017. The event brought national attention to the city after a counter-protester was killed, along with two state policemen in a helicopter crash. That intensified debates within multiple Virginia jurisdictions about the pros and cons of relocating monuments related to the Confederacy, and led to dramatic changes on Monument Avenue in Richmond.4

a plaque at the Bedford County Courthouse honors the soldiers from Bedford who died on D-Day (June 6, 1944)
a plaque at the Bedford County Courthouse honors the soldiers from Bedford who died on D-Day (June 6, 1944)

After the War: The Lost Cause

Confederate Monuments in Virginia

Monuments Honoring "Yankees" in Virginia

A Monument In Petersburg Honoring a British General Who Invaded Virginia in the Revolutionary War

Links

References

1. "Loudoun's World War I Monument to Be Desegregated," LoudounNOW, September 4, 2020, https://loudounnow.com/2020/09/04/leesburgs-wwi-monument-to-be-desegregated/ (last checked September 5, 2020)
2. "War memorial starts $26M expansion," Richmond BizSense, October 2, 2017, https://richmondbizsense.com/2017/10/02/war-memorial-starts-26m-expansion/ (last checked April 20, 2019)
3. "Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy," Southern Poverty Law Center, February 1, 2019, https://abcnews.go.com/US/richmond-addressing-debate-confederate-monuments-year-charlottesville/story?id=57009869 (last checked April 20, 2019)
4. "More Confederate monuments removed in Richmond," WSET, July 9, 2020, https://www.wtvr.com/news/local-news/more-confederate-monuments-removed-in-richmond (last checked September 5, 2020)


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