Jesse Ring denounces those who would tear down statues of Confederate heroes because he believes they’re acting illegally (“A Virginian responds to statues editorial,” Aug. 29 opinion). Let’s make some comparisons.
Urban renewal was initiated by city governments, including that of Roanoke. But because African Americans had limited access to influence government (on any level, and especially, but not limited to, the South), cities across the country were able to use the mechanism of eminent domain to acquire the land owned by black citizens (and, in Roanoke, to pay for the properties at less than market value) and use it for projects to benefit citizens — some of them, at least.
In Roanoke one of the projects was Interstate 581; another was Towers Mall. Did Black citizens benefit from these projects? Maybe, but they paid a price for them white citizens didn’t have to pay: losing their residences and their businesses, and with the latter, their livelihoods.
Mr. Ring complains that, in the case of statue removal, white Southerners are unfairly blamed. In Roanoke it was presumably white Southerners who initiated urban renewal, but similar projects were carried out all over the country, including Northern states, so we can’t blame Southerners for all of those. Some black commentators characterized urban renewal as Negro Removal, and Malcolm X commented that what he had learned about racism he had learned in the North, because he had never lived in the South. So there are plenty of people to blame the unfairness of urban renewal on.
Mr. Ring seems to be saying that tearing down Confederate statues is wrong because it makes Southern whites feel bad (though I doubt all Southern whites would agree). Urban renewal made a lot of Black citizens feel bad too, but for more substantial reasons: the loss of their homes and (at least sometimes) their livelihoods and what little wealth they had, since they weren’t properly reimbursed for the loss of their property.
The two processes were not exactly the same, but which caused more pain? Not everyone will agree, but I think the answer is pretty clear.
Allen Starbuck, Roanoke