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Fallout From Charlottesville Being Felt In Albany

Confederate memorial tombstone at Natchez City Cemetery in Natchez, Mississippi
Confederate memorial tombstone at Natchez City Cemetery in Natchez, Mississippi

Officials in several states are calling for the removal of statues and monuments along with the renaming of buildings and streets associated with the Confederate States of America. 

On the heels of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, expressing the importance of renaming Stonewall Jackson Drive and General Lee Avenue at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton.

Cuomo, a Democrat, also took to social media, saying- quote - “Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed from the CUNY hall of great Americans because New York stands against racism,” Cuomo's tweet drew numerous comments from supporters and dissenters alike.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter Thursday he was “sad” to see United States’ history torn apart by the removal of “our beautiful statues and monuments.”

Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin is a Democratic Mayoral candidate.   "This is a conversation that's taking place around the country. It was only a matter of time that we would begin to talk about here in Albany as it relates to historic monuments here."

Some have called for Albany's Washington Park to be renamed Henry Johnson Memorial Park – to honor the African American World War 1 hero. Those in favor point out that President Washington owned slaves.  Green party mayoral candidate Dan Plaat weighs in:   "I wouldn't object to Washington because he owned slaves. Most of the country owned slaves. People in Albany owned slaves. But we should definitely have memorials to those that were enslaved in Albany. So it's not just a matter of tearing down what existed in the past, but also raising up what isn't represented, particularly the struggles of working people, the struggles of the enslaved and the struggles of native New Yorkers who originally inhabited this land."

The drive to remove all things considered offensive also touched Assembly  Speaker Carl Heastie when he suggested that depictions of Confederate flags on a mural in the War Room inside the State Capitol be removed.  Heastie's reaction came from something he heard secondhand. Plaat says in these troubled times "Context is everything, and the context of the memorials and the statues that we're talking about are those that glorify and celebrate the war, or militarism or imperialism."

State Office of General Services spokeswoman Heather Groll explains the war room painting depicts New York's contributions to the Union cause and its triumph over the Confederacy.  "One of the dying rebels, apparently killed by a New Yorker on the battlefield, is clutching a Confederate Flag and he is falling backwards.  An additional flag which is in the arch doorway accompanying this part of the mural, is ensconced in a laurel wreath and is depicting a war trophy captured by Union soldiers. Capturing flags as war trophies is common throughout history, and it's clear that this mural, in no way, honors the Confederate cause. It's quite the opposite."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
The Spanish-American War monument in Townsend Park commemorates the four companies of the1st Provisional Regiment of the 10th Battalion which was based at the Washington Avenue Armory.

In Albany's Townsend Park, the place where a massive "anti-KKK" rally was held in December, there's a landmark statue Platt believes has a sordid past.    "A statue celebrating or memorializing those locally that fought in the Spanish-American war. It has a lot of parallels to the Iraq war. It started on a bunch of lies or exaggerations from the press, the corporate press. The occupation of foreign nations, Cuba, Philippines, Hawaii for decades with brutal fighting, threatening the locals. It was in the name of freeing them, but it was more about corporate power."

McLaughlin says ripples from Virginia have reached New York.  "Last night at the council meeting we did pass a resolution that was unanimously voted and supported by all the council members and myself denouncing racism, bigotry..."  the resolution condemned the Charlottesville incident and voiced the City of Albany’s solidarity with the citizens of Charlottesville. McLaughlin would like to strike up dialog with citizens, politicians, the NAACP, the anti-defamation league, the local Jewish community and other groups."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan was not available for comment. Mayoral candidate Frank Commisso Jr. could not be reached for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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