Erasing history?: The debate over Confederate monuments

ABC News' Martha Raddatz sits down with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, co-CEO of the American Civil War Museum Christy Coleman, and Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos to discuss the debate over Confederate monuments.
8:38 | 08/20/17

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Transcript for Erasing history?: The debate over Confederate monuments
I love the city of Richmond. And I want to see us grow. We were the capital. Cow can't erase that. We had five dreadful years of slaughter on both sides. And, we were the capital of the south. So, what are we going to do? Just whitewash it and say it never existed. It existed. Let's learn from it and not repeat ourselves. That was bill, the president of the preservation society in Richmond. The city's statues are being hotly debated. I traveled to the capital and spoke to a charlottesville leader. And Chris Ty Coleman, the CEO of the American civil war museum. That's where we gathered. We started with the events in charlottesville. It was an armed invasion of our city. It was horrifying. [ Chanting nchld. You will not replace us. From the thornlg light March through uva. To the 500 fascists and nationalists with ak-47s and clubs and knives. We could tell it was a terrible event from the very start. And mayor, your reaction when you saw those people tecarrying torches? It made my heart sink. To see the gath eerring of hate, intolerance. It was akin to Klan rally without the hoods. Normally, you see that on black and white film from the civil rights movement. To see that as clear as day. Only 60 miles away from your city in your state, that you love so much. It made my heart sink. And Christy, you affiliated with the museum, the history, what was your reaction. I realized an important flash point had been reached. We go through these cycles. When there is forward progression of the social movement. And social expansion of civil rights. There is always a very violent and very quick and very hot pushback on that. Fire the first shot. This is how the cycle works. This is what happens when we turn history into nostalgia. Tell me more what you mean about that. Turning history into nostalgia. People who really need to say, um -- you know this is who we are. These are our heroes. We honor these people because they were good and noble and righteo righteous. We don't want to look at the other complexities of these individuals. That's really about nostalgia. That's not about the real push and pull that is always a part of the history dynamic. It seemed like Richmond had been able to accommodate the verse sides. Monument avenue, statues of fooifl civil war leaders loom over the city prom interceptly. But with the events in charlottesville, even this former capital of the confederacy is rethinking how its history should be displayed. So talk a bit about those monument. What do you do now? I requested they provide context to the monuments. Explain who these individuals were. Why they got -- how they got there, why they were put there. I thought these would be tools to teach and enlighten. Unfortunately, what happened Saturday, we have seen these are now rallying points for people to harbor hate and division and intolerance. Those are not with the values of this city. I'm offended by them. I think about my grandmother who grew up in the sec gated south and the deep south and the low country of South Carolina. 1923. She would be offended by those things. I want to be on her side. I want to be on the side of the right. Is there a way to view those monuments that is not viewed as racist? Clearly, they are. There are people that don't view them as racist. They view them as symbols of virtue. A memorial to a sacrifice that people made for their homes. I mean, clearly, that's a part of the narrative. They do tell us a lot of spresing stories if we're willing to hear them. Nobody the talking about being politically correct. What's the other one, you're being revisionist. No, no, no, no, no. History is always a process of new questions. Every generation asks a new question. As scholars, we go back and look at what the historical record left us to try to answer them. We would be irresponsible if with these new questions that we did not go back and say, hey, now we understand this thing in a bigger way. You heard Donald Trump compare stone Wal Jackson, Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. This week, it's Robert E. Lee. I notice stone Wal Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and Thomas Jefferson the week after? You have to ask iourself, where does it stop? I don't believe it's a comparison at all. Washington and Jefferson were founders, part of the founding fathers. They did not take up arms against the United States of America. Here, we do celebrate I don't think any other city out there, any other country in the world celebrates another army taking up arms against its actual country. Except here. Here in the south. And, that's why they're different to me. When we have the statues of Washington and Jefferson, they're por tried as being the father of our country. Being president. Writing the declaration of Independence. The confederate statues are in full army regalia, fighting against the United States to perpetuate slavery. The country is worried about this. What do you think going forward? I believe we need the take a moment the breathe. Chill out a little bit. And we're going get that time. Once we chill out and breathe, we're going to get back to the discussion in a civil manner and work on finding a resolution to this. How do you do that, particularly when you have a president who says those monuments are beautiful? I appreciate the president's opinion. But here in the city of Richmond, I don't think that frankly matter. He doesn't live here. We live here. We'll be the individuals who will choose our destiny. People that say this is our herita heritage. This is our people. They fought. They are still our people. How do you convince them? It's trying to reconcile for communities and help communities come to understand this really interesting dance between what history really is. Which is all of this messy. The notion of heritage. The notion of memory. And how they -- how they play out in public life. There are always going to be people on opposite side who is are going frankly disagree. I think here in Richmond, we like to think we have fully healed from our difficult and unique past. I think what we're seeing is that we haven't. It's like putting a cast on a broken arm. And not -- not ever fully healing. That is the case. You ne hat? Just like charlottesville, Richmond is resilient. Is this something that scars your city? Makes your city better city? We're the town of Thomas Jefferson, who you can tad about all men are created equal. We believe that. I have to say I've been really proud of my city. The way that weave taken this hit and tried to come together. We're still in the process. It will take a long time. It's a traumatic thing. Things will get better. They always do. I try not the despair. Despite what president trump may say or do, I know and have faith. That's whey you get into this work, that things will get better. Have faith that things will get better. Our thanks again to the mayor LE var stoney, Chris tin sakas and Kristy Coleman. I'll be right back with a closing thought on this week's events.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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