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NSU PROFESSOR TO HELP DECIDE VIRGINIA’S NEW U.S. CAPITOL STATUE

Dr. Colita Nichols Fairfax, NSU professor of social work, was recently appointed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, as a member of the newly created Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol. The commission is charged with recommending a new historical figure to replace the Robert E. Lee statue that is currently part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Fairfax, who is also chairman of Virginia’s State Board of Historic Resources, is acclaimed for using her training in African American Studies and Social Work to apply an appropriate lens when it comes to civic and public education and portrayals of African American culture and history and has had a hand in statue decisions before.

In 2010, as a member of the Statue Sub-committee for the city of Hampton’s 400th Anniversary, Dr. Fairfax was a chief advocate for a righteous depiction of the African, in the city’s anniversary statue portraying an Englishman, Algonquin and African. “It was important that the African not be displayed as subservient, docile or lowly, but as a courageous, fierce and valiant figure representing millions of Africans whose stolen labor and ingenuity built America,” Dr. Fairfax said. “When the artist initially rendered the African on his knees, I almost flipped the table.”

Sentiment for removing Confederate memorials and symbols has been rising and has now met its moment. In April, Northam signed legislation sponsored by Sen. L. Louise Lucas and Del. Jeion Ward that created the eight-member commission. The legislation requires the commission to select a sculptor for the new Capitol statue, with preference given to a sculptor from Virginia; estimate the costs associated with the replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue, including costs related to construction and placement of the new statue, removal and transfer of the Robert E. Lee statue, and any unveiling ceremony of the new statue; and recommend to the General Assembly a suitable state, local, or private nonprofit history museum in the Commonwealth for placement of the Robert E. Lee statue. The commission will hold a public comment period about the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. And with careful study and consideration after a second public comment phase, the commission will offer recommendations to the General Assembly by the end of the year.

Robert E Lee statue

According to the Architect of the Capitol website, the National Statuary Hall Collection is comprised of statues donated by individual states to honor two persons notable in their history. The entire collection consists of 100 statues contributed by 50 states. The bronze Robert E. Lee statue, which depicts him in his Confederate Army uniform, was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by Virginia in 1909. In one arrangement of the Statuary Hall Collection, Lee’s statue stood near the House chamber until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s first term, 2007-11, when Democrats moved it to the Capitol Crypt, a room one floor below. The move was part of a reshuffling of the collection authorized by Congress. A statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks now stands in its place.

Dr. Fairfax offers that, “memory work, which is what I engage in as a scholar, reflects symbols, such as statues and monuments of humanity. My role is to ensure that the collective memory of African Americans be considered and a part of the decision making process.”