What our monuments (don't) teach us about remembering the past

I’m embarrassed to admit this: I lived just down the street from the Robert E. Lee memorial and I must have walked past it dozens of times and never gave it a moment of thought. Incidentally, not four blocks away from that, there is another monument — even more inconspicuous in Charlottesville’s court square. A small plaque, embedded in the ground, that marks the site of a former slave auction. And I also walked past that countless times and did not pay attention to it at all.

Monuments don’t mean things on their own. They mean things because we make them mean things. So this Robert E. Lee statue, which I suspect most Charlottesvillians would have walked past and ignored as well, has taken on a new valence. And I think that’s an important reminder. Monuments are not static things that have a single narrative behind them. Monuments are things that we create. Monuments are objects whose meaning and significance we create daily.