Suggestion to consider removing Va. Confederate statues brings firestorm on council member

By: Media General News Service | Winston-Salem Journal
April 03, 2012

A Charlottesville, Va., city council member decried what she saw as a "firestorm of vitriol and hatred" that came her way after she publicly floated the idea of tearing down Civil War statues.

In an emotional speech at Monday’s council meeting, Kristin Szakos said she expected her comments at a Virginia Festival of the Book event last month to "ruffle some feathers" and start conversations, but she didn’t expect the hatred directed toward her in online comments, emails and phone calls to her house.

"Tell your mother that she’s (an expletive) and to get her (expletive) hands off our heritage," Szakos recounted a caller saying to her daughter.

Szakos stood by the need to have the conversation.

"I’d like to know what you think about it, but please do me a favor, if you want to call me names or be hateful, don’t do it through my kids," Szakos said.

After a March 22 speech by historian Edward Ayers, Szakos asked about Confederate statues and whether the city should talk about tearing them down or balancing them out.

"By the gasps around me, you’d have thought I’d asked if it was OK to torture puppies," Szakos said Monday.

Szakos said she was told she had stirred up disharmony between races, warned that violence would ensue if she pursued taking statues down and that she didn’t understand Southern heritage.

Not all comments were negative or hateful, Szakos said, recalling one person who had originally gone to an online comment section to suggest the statues were purely historical and have no other meaning.

"But after reading the bigotry and some of the other comments, I realized the statues may still represent something hateful to a small but vocal subset of our community," Szakos said, quoting the comment. "If it turns out this is true, and these are not just Internet trolls, I would be amenable to moving the statues to a new, specific historical and educational setting. And replacing them in our municipal parks with something that represents the community we live in today."

Szakos said she doesn’t believe that the worst comments came from city residents, but insisted that the "hate-filled bigotry" she experienced reminded her of her childhood in Mississippi, when her parents suffered abuse for standing up for civil rights and a neighbor’s house was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan.

"The South does have a proud heritage," Szakos said. "The heritage of those like my parents and others who fought for equal rights in the 1960s and still do today; the heritage of countless enslaved parents who taught their children to believe in themselves in a society that considered them property; the heritage of people who farmed and loved this land before the Europeans came … I’m proud of our Southern heritage. So proud that it saddened me to see it reduced to two Confederate generals and the myth of the superiority of a proud, noble, slave-holding South, in which only a few held power."

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