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Former Home State Of Confederate Capital Confronts Awkward History

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Memorials to the Confederacy, including this statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, are easily found throughout Virginia.
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Memorials to the Confederacy, including this statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, are easily found throughout Virginia.

When Alexandria City Councilman Justin Wilson was going through the city code a few years ago, he came across an odd provision, one that was shocking. The code required new north-south streets to be named for Confederate generals. Wilson says he had a good laugh and then took action to strike the provision. Now he says it's time to think about moving a Confederate memorial statue from a prominent location in Old Town.

"I think there's an appropriate context that we have to place that history in, and I think there's a lot of folks who don't feel like a statue honoring that cause is the appropriate place for that," says Wilson. "The nature of that memorial and the glorification of that cause I think is problematic."

Because it was the home state of the Confederacy and the location of most Civil War battles, Virginia has more Confederate symbols than any other state. Lee-Davis High School in Richmond, for example, is named for Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Its mascot is the Confederates. A roller coaster at King's Dominion is called the Rebel Yell. And then there's the statue of Robert E. Lee at the Capitol, which many are now saying is analogous to the Confederate battle flag that flew over the South Carolina Capitol.

"There's a possibility that there could be some consensus on removing it or changing how it's displayed in some way to try to account for Lee's involvement in a cause that obviously is controversial to this day," says Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It's difficult to see how how much will this continue to snowball to the degree that there will be further calls to take down statues of famous Confederate generals all over the South."

That's an effort that will face opposition in a state where many people view Confederate history and symbols as a Lost Cause.

"There's this just not a groundswell but almost a panic a hysteria about this, and this is making a lot of people, millions of people, very upset because of the way we are being portrayed, and it's wrong," says Ben Jones of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who played Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard. "If you think there's been a stink about this flag in Columbia or anywhere, you start messing with Robert E. Lee's statue and you're unecesarily stirring up a hornet's nest."

Another Confederate symbol that's coming under new scrutiny is the city seal of Winchester, which includes a Confederate battle flag. City leaders say they will be taking up that issue in the coming weeks and making a decision if they want to keep it or move for a redesign.

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