In the wake of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville last weekend, a Richland man is questioning a Tri-City memorial to the Confederacy.
Tucked on a corner of Lee Boulevard, across from Richland High School, is a sign explaining who the street was named for — Robert E. Lee, the famous general who sided with the South in the Civil War.
Richland resident Martin McBriarty posted on his Facebook page that the sign “glorified the Confederacy” and that it “MUST be removed.”
It’s a sentiment that sharply divided hundreds of Facebook commenters when a Tri-City TV station posed the question whether the main Richland thoroughfare should be renamed.
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The majority appeared opposed to any change — be it the street name or the sign. Calls for respect of history dominated the posts.
Many took offense that KNDU even asked the question. The station later edited its post to defend itself.
Station manager Cameron Derrick told the Herald the station had no opinion either way, and they just wanted community input.
McBriarty told the Herald he does not believe history should be erased.
“It’s critical for us to understand the importance of the Civil War in establishing our national identity, which embraces equality and liberty,” he said in an email.
He doesn’t blame Richland either.
The Manhattan Engineering District and Army Corps of Engineers named Richland’s streets after Army officers when the town came to life in the early 1940s. Lee was a longtime Army engineer before he sided with the Confederacy and fought the Union.
However, he said the sign still glorifies the general. The sign — one of many put up in the city by a veterans group in 2011 — reads that Lee became “a potent symbol of regional pride and dignity, and is still held in the same regard today.”
The sign’s language was developed with history provided by the city of Richland’s Planning and Redevelopment department, something else that troubles McBriarty.
“The Civil War was fought over nothing less than slavery, and we should not honor those like Robert E. Lee who committed themselves to the Confederacy and its white supremacist ideals,” the Tri-City scientist said.
A city pamphlet about the street names explains at greater length that Lee “remained bitter and worked to obstruct societal changes ... including the enfranchisement of African Americans.”
McBriarty reached out to Richland city Councilwoman Dori Luzzo Gilmour to ask about how to go about renaming or rededicating the sign.
She said it was a good exchange but it’s not a simple matter to rename a street or remove the marker.
“If these private citizens want these signs in their private yard, the city shouldn’t get involved,” she said.
McBriarty said that after talking with her, he understood how hard it would be to rename the street. He suggested the rededication route instead, saying that the city “can find a more ethically sound and culturally relevant person by the name of Lee to whom the boulevard may be dedicated.”
The Civil War was fought over nothing less than slavery, and we should not honor those like Robert E. Lee who committed themselves to the Confederacy and its white supremacist ideals.
Martin McBriarty, Richland
McBriarty also wants to ask the groups who put up the signs, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7952 and AMVETS Post 397, or the homeowner to take down the markers.
Lee isn’t the only Confederate with a street in Richland. Smith Avenue is named after G.W. Smith, Lee’s predecessor as general of the Army of Northern Virginia, which was the primary Confederate army of the Civil War.
There may be more, but the city can’t find biographies for all the street names.
Richland city officials and Mayor Bob Thompson could not be reached Thursday about the issue.
McBriarty’s questions come just days after some Richland residents spoke at a council meeting about the lack of inclusion felt by minorities in the city.
Jake Dorsey: 509-582-1405, @tricityherald