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When the Toppled Statue Is of Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather

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tags: statues, Confederacy, public history



Reggie Harris, 67, is a descendant of both Wickham and Bibanna Hewlett, a black woman who was enslaved at Wickham’s plantation. For Mr. Harris, a musician and teacher, the statue has been a painful reminder of the abuse his family suffered and of America’s refusal to fully acknowledge its past.

Mr. Harris and some of Wickham’s other descendants met for dinner in 2012, and when the statue came up as a topic of conversation, they decided to visit it together.

“We all looked at each other and we said, ‘Well, what do we do with this?’” Mr. Harris recalled of their visit to the monument. “Because we had had conversations about our relationship, and trying to put that all in some perspective, and now we had this bronze and concrete memorial to this person who, you know, complicated history.”

Clayton Wickham and his brother Will wrote a letter to Richmond’s mayor in 2017, asking that the statue be removed, but it remained in place. Then, suddenly, protesters tied a rope around the statue this month and tore it down themselves. Mr. Harris said it was satisfying to see it topple.

On Wednesday, in a video call with two Wickhams and a reporter, he was also moved by how much his white relatives’ views had changed.

“I didn’t know that you had voted to have the statue cleaned a few years back and that now you were regretting that you’d done that,” he said to Clayton Wickham and Mr. Wickham’s aunt, Wallis Raemer, during the call. “That’s real stuff, that’s real history. That’s not this idealized thing of ‘let bygones be bygones.’ That’s people struggling with all those things that people talk about — legacy and heritage and adopting new thought.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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