What about my statues? Not Caesar Rodney!

I’ve found that the most powerful ethics tool is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes: “How would I feel if that were me in that situation?”

So, I thought, how would I feel if I were Richmond born and raised, about giving up the Confederate flag and the statues that I would have driven past every day—the same statues that Black residents saw as a symbol of all the ills of their world. I would have agreed with removing them, I thought, not by the mob, but by the orders of legitimate authority. The statues and symbols of betrayal should never have been erected or honored.

But I’m not Richmond born and bred—I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, where the town center has a majestic square—Rodney Square, dominated by a gorgeous (to me) equestrian statue of Caesar Rodney. Rodney is remembered, and little children learn this, for rising from his near-death bed to ride overnight through a thunderstorm, eighty miles from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a tie-breaking vote to adopt the Declaration of Independence. He’s the figure on the Delaware quarter.

Rodney was a lawyer who went on to command the Delaware militia in the Revolutionary War, then to be President of Delaware until adoption of the Constitution. But nobody knows that—we Delawareans know and honor Rodney for that ride. And nobody knows—or rather, knew, that he owned a plantation farmed by 200 slaves.

Rodney-the-hero to me was Rodney-the-slave owner to the Black Delawareans. And so last month he came down.

And I felt like I suspect old Richmonders felt—punched in the gut when I saw my childhood totem erased. So I’ll spare a spot of sympathy for Richmonders, who have to learn to live without proud thoughts of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. And I’ll mourn Caesar Rodney.


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