On this episode of "The Remix" we respond to the incidents that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, by asking how we, as a nation, should think about and commemorate the history of the Confederacy and of slavery.

Our first guest is Kelley Libby from Richmond, Virginia. She is the producer of the multi-platform audio project, UnMonumental, part of Finding America, a national initiative produced by the Association of Independents in Radio. It aired on Virginia Public Radio, WVTF. (Note: WHYY also participated Finding America with its EveryZip Philadelphia project.)

With UnMonumental, Libbey explores how the residents of Richmond think about and remember their past and how the city's monuments reflect that past. She brings her personal, family history to the project as well.

Our second guest is Paul Farber, co-founder and artistic director of the Monument Lab project in Philadelphia. Monument Lab invites artists and citizens to engage with and explore Philadelphia's "historical landscape."

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation with "Remix" host Dr. James Peterson, Kelley Libby, and Paul Farber.

Dr. James Peterson: So Kelley, welcome to the program.

Kelley Libby: Thank you for having me.

JP: Can you talk to us a little bit about the UnMonumental project, when you started it, and what's the sort of mission of it?

KL: UnMonumental started in the fall of 2015. It's part of an initiative called Localore: Finding America, which placed 15 producers at public media stations across the country from Alaska to Baltimore to even Philadelphia to work with and for communities, to bring public media to places where it doesn't typically reach. And so UnMonumental was what started to address this issue of the commemorative landscape in Richmond, Virginia.

JP: I mean, obviously Virginia has been a little bit of a flashpoint over the last week or more. Can you talk to us a little bit about how Richmond, Virginia, is sort of set up in terms of the ways in which it commemorates the Civil War and the Confederacy?

KL: Richmond, Virginia, is the former capital of the Confederacy. And so history is everywhere you look. The most prominent and perhaps biggest draw for tourists in this respect is Monument Avenue. It's this broad thoroughfare that crosses the city through a wealthy neighborhood, and it's lined with Confederate monuments to generals mostly — but also Arthur Ashe is one of the statues on that.

JP: Wow! Talk about irony and anomalies. I wonder how Arthur Ashe feels about being situated there. So Monument Avenue, it's a big tourist piece for Richmond. Because you studied this a little bit, where do you think the debate needs to go for a spot like Monument Avenue? I mean obviously there are lots of folks calling for taking down these Confederate statues. There are lots of folks who refer to this as the erasure of history. It seems to me that Richmond presents a special case because one, it was the historic capital of the Confederacy, but also that's a part of the Richmond economy, that folks can go there and tour and experience and learn about that history in places like Monument Avenue. So how do you think the debate that people are having around these Confederate commemorations applies to a place like Richmond Virginia?

KL: Well, I think one thing that's being left out of the conversation at this point is there's a part of town called Shockoe Bottom, and it's the site of a burial ground. Shockoe Bottom is also the site where many thousands of people were bought and sold. It's the slave market district. And at this point it's not fully commemorated. Not in a way that is effective and that tourists or school children riding by on the bus can recognize that this is a part of our history, too. I-95 crosses it; train tracks cross it. It's a very noisy part of town. And at this point the burial ground, which was recently covered by a parking lot, is now a grassy field. But that is a part of the story of Richmond that we need to be talking about more.

JP: That's an interesting point to make, which is maybe the conversation we're having about taking things down needs to be more about how do we more appropriately commemorate other aspects of this history. We take students on civil rights spring break trips each year with Lehigh [University], and we took students to the slave trails in Richmond, Virginia. I think this is about two years ago. And there does seem to be some imbalance in terms of how certain municipalities commemorate this history and the absence of the commemoration of enslaved Africans. When you think about this burial ground, how do we acknowledge and excavate that bargain and make it a historical site?

KL: Well at this point, there are a couple of different initiatives going on to make this happen. It's taking too long. But the conversation is happening. It's definitely happening in Richmond.

JP: That's really important. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your personal connection to this history. Because I think one of the things that's difficult — even for someone like myself, who's descended from enslaved Africans in this country — it's difficult to appreciate those folks who are making the argument about the heritage of the Confederate moment in our history. And I know you have some personal connection to that. How do you reconcile that distinction between heritage and the hate that, really, for many of us, the Confederacy represents.

KL: As a child I was a member of the Children of the Confederacy, which is an auxiliary organization of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC is responsible for building and maintaining many of these monuments and memorials that are scattered, not just in the South, but throughout the nation, and for also perpetuating a story that the cause of the Civil War was an honorable one. So as a child — I think it was somewhat brief that I was a member of that organization — my mother was in the Daughters of the Confederacy. But yes, that's part of my experience. I'm a descendent of Confederate veterans, and my family were also enslavers of people in north Florida. And then I also learned in recent years that my great grandfather was in the Klan.

JP: Wow. That's a history steeped in complexities at least. When did your thinking start to change? You say you weren't in the Children of the Confederacy group for too long. Did you have some kind of awakening? Something that happened that made you realize the actual complexity of the history outside of your family's experience with it?

KL: I've always been interested in history particularly local history in North Florida, where I'm from, and family history. And so we're both of my parents. And I think that was sort of why we were involved in the daughters and the children of the Confederacy to begin with. My mother was very interested in genealogy and finding out who our family was. And she was also very interested in finding out the names of the enslaved in our family, too. What I remember about being in the Children of the Confederacy was that we sang songs, we colored in coloring books — Civil War coloring books. We did service projects. It seemed like it was sort of a community service organization.

Actually, I've only begun remembering some of these things in recent years.

JP: And I think it's important to note that you're recalling this history more so in this contemporary moment. We all have challenges about our childhood. We look back at it a little bit more nostalgically, but I'm wondering if you remember a moment where you became more conscious about the complexities of the history of the Confederacy?

KL: I would say going to college changed my perspective a little. I was introduced to people who were different from me. I grew up in a rural area, so I was largely exposed to people who were just like me, my family. But then it was when I went to graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, that I really began to have an awakening to this past and my connection to it.

When I was in graduate school I studied writing and rhetoric in the English department, and I became really interested in the relationship between people and place and how what people say in public discourse — you know, in newspaper articles and on the radio — how that's related to what we see and experience as we move through a city. So I was especially interested in the way this particular development in a historically white working class neighborhood was talked about. And then how what people say is manifested on the landscape.

And so I began to ask myself: What happens if we tell the truth? What happens if we tell the truth when we are talking to each other in conversation or in media? How will that change the urban landscape? How does it change how we do housing or institutional buildings or how we commemorate spaces? How does it change how we route highways so that they don't slice through a neighborhood but keep a neighborhood intact.

JP: It is so interesting to me, because I've also studied a bit of urban planning and just the havoc that it can wreak on certain residential communities, especially poor communities of color. I'm curious though, if we can make a distinction in the ways that we want to celebrate, or not, the heritage of the Confederacy. From your perspective. Is there a persuasive case to be made for these monuments and statues existing in our public spaces?

KL: Before the events of Charlottesville, I have heard the argument made from various people that these monuments should perhaps remain and be teaching tools. I think after the events of this past weekend a lot of people's minds have changed. For me, personally, I think they should go. I think the street names should be changed. I think the school names should be changed. The monument should go.

JP: Wow, that's crystal clear. What kind of compelling case can be made to either remove or move these monuments to the Confederacy?

KL: I think we have to be on the right side of history. Wow, this is such a huge question. It feels like a lot of responsibility to answer this question.

JP: Just from your opinion and your experience, though. How could you make the case? Because my sense is that the folks who defend the commemoration of the Confederacy, most of them are not like you. Most of them are entrenched and most of them dispel any arguments around hate. They want the conversation to focus on heritage, and they talk about the erasure of history. You know they're entrenched in their belief that this kind of commemoration is important and it's important for it to be in public.

It's hard for someone like me to identify with that, obviously, because I'm descended from the folks who think of all symbols of the Confederacy, and understand all symbols of Confederacy, as death for black folks. So, I'm curious as to whether or not a compelling argument could be made to those folks who are more entrenched in their positions in terms of Confederate statues and monuments around the country.

KL: Yeah I struggle with this, because many of my family members and people from my home community subscribe to this story that the Confederacy is honorable, this Confederate history is honorable.

I was in the Children of the Confederacy for a brief amount of time, but for so much more of my childhood I was a Christian and I was a member of a Southern Baptist church. And those Christian principles that I learned very early on are guiding my way probably more than any other thing. And what I learned was we have to be a witness, we have to be an example of Christ's love. And when I talk to my friends in Richmond who are black, and they share their experience, and they talk about how hurtful these monuments are to them and that they have to drive on these roads and see these Monuments daily, and it's very painful to them, we can't we can't have our friends and our loved ones be in pain.

JP: That's a beautiful response to that. My guest this week is Kelley Libby, who just gave a very compassionate answer to the question of whether or not we should keep Confederate monuments in the public square, so to speak. Kelly Libbey is producer of the multi-platform UnMonumental project. Kelley, thank you so much for joining "The Remix" and sharing some of your insights with us.

KL: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to talk with you.

JP: There are still lots of unasked and unanswered questions for me. So, what is the purpose of these kinds of monuments? Why do we need them and what role do they have to play for us going forward? What kinds of standards should we be using in terms of how and why we commemorate a particular history in the United States?

My next guest is Dr. Paul Farber, who's the managing director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and the co-founder of the Monument Lab project right here in the great city of Philadelphia. Paul, welcome to the program.

Paul Farber: It's great to be here again. Thank you.

JP: Give us a synopsis of what the project is and what you're trying to accomplish right now.

PF: Monument Lab is a public art and history project based in the city of Philadelphia and produced with Mural Arts. And the project centers around a question that we asked to as many people as possible, especially artists, students, and civically engaged folks in the city: "What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?"

This is a question that we asked in a discovery phase of the project back in 2015 in the courtyard of City Hall, where 35,000 people came in three and a half weeks. And 455 left creative monument proposals that, while reading them, is like reading one of the most beautiful, haunting, and truthful stories about our city's history.

JP: There's been a lot of talk obviously in the news this week about monuments, and that process you just articulated to me sounds the exact opposite of how actual monuments are erected. You guys are basically doing a crowd-sourced input, democratic-with-a-small-D way of temporarily installing monuments. That's not the way that monuments are erected in municipalities. In all of this conversation around Confederate monuments, or which monuments should stay and which ones should go, I don't think anyone has [questioned] who decides what becomes a monument — outside of your incredible project!

Who generally decides what becomes a statue in a city?

PF: There's not one process, but what it comes down to is that a particular story or figure is represented in a prominent public place with the expectation that that vision is going to be permanent, it's going to be enduring, and it's going to speak for the city. It's not just a matter of bureaucracy, it's about your value system.

So we look back at the monuments that we've inherited. Some of them we have in our city because they're connected to events that many people would say are important, right? The founding of this nation, the kind of laying out of the city plan, other pivotal moments. But of course there are other monuments that are sponsored by a particular group of people. They are decided upon behind closed doors. And when you add up all these monuments together — and of course we have one of the world's storied public art collections here in the city — it tells many of the stories, but it leaves a lot of them out.

You know, the fact that this year we're going to see a monument dedicated to Octavius Catto, on the apron of City Hall — the first public monument there to a person of color. And this is someone who is a freedom fighter in the 19th century. There's a sculpture of Joe Frazier down by the stadiums. But we're talking City Hall, where there are hundreds of statues around there. 

In this city, in Philadelphia, there are over 1,500 statues dedicated to historic figures. How many dedicated to women? Two. Joan of Arc — not a famous Philadelphian, but worthy of her status. And Mary Dyer, a Bostonian Quaker woman.

JP: Those are stunning numbers, and I would imagine those numbers play themselves out nationally. But since we're talking locally, tell me where you shake out on this controversy around the the Frank Rizzo statue. There's some Philadelphia politics being played here, but where do you shake out on this on this debate? And what are your thoughts about the activists who spray painted "black power" on the Frank Rizzo statue recently, here in Philadelphia?

PF: Monuments, on one hand, tell us stories about the past as if they've been frozen in time. But of course they're about the way that they live into the future. And it's very clear that issues of racial repression, state violence, and police brutality are profoundly part of — and tragically so — our civic life. For that statue there is, on one hand, part about an unresolved past. Who was that figure in the city? Well, to some people, oftentimes white people, he was a celebrated figure who brought a sense of quote-unquote law and order and safety. But if you broaden that out to marginalized community, one person's safety is another person's terror. And so there are unresolved matters when it comes to Frank Rizzo's legacy about the forms of brutality, the outspoken animus to political opponents. And so as a historical figure it's unresolved, right? He looms large in historical memory still to this day.

When it comes to the statue, part of the kind of debate controversy is about that. But the other part is that he is a symbol in this city for ongoing challenges between citizens and police and especially citizens of color and communities of color. And, you know, as someone who is white, who is an advocate for racial justice, I watch that debate happening. I listen to my students for example, who are understanding past moments in the city of racial injustice involving Frank Rizzo, and they are learning their history and channeling it into the present.

JP: So that's a great segue into the national conversation around Confederate statues and monuments. You're a scholar of this, so you know that many of these monuments are not sort of marked or erected in and around the Civil War era but in and around the civil rights era. But tell me what you think about this, because it seems as if we are going to have this conversation. There are some municipalities, and I think Baltimore was pretty smart about this, Maryland was smart about this. They don't want to have a conversation; they're just taking them down. And that's their prerogative. I think locally some of these decisions are being made. By the way, it was a local decision to take down the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville.

What do you think about this? I mean, we had another guest on helping us to understand how you might distinguish between trying to think about commemorating and certain heritage. Kelley, who was amazing, ultimately said that we should still take them all down. But where do you stand, as a student of this world of how monuments are constructed, what they represent, what do we say and do about the Confederate monuments across this country?

PF: The need to address persistent systematic racism is clear. I think of the lessons that I've had from mentors and teachers in African-American studies and critical ethnic studies who have pointed out that this debate, this conversation, so to speak, that we're having now, didn't start this month this summer.

What comes to mind for me, the idea that you mentioned, the kind of legacy of Confederate monuments — and there was a rise of them that came in in the Jim Crow era; there's another that came in during the civil rights movement and you see historic images, for example, of the march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. You will see the Confederate flag waving. So let me be very clear. It is time to remove enduring symbols of racism. It's also time to understand the endurance of racism.

JP: Brilliantly stated here. My guest this week is Paul Farber who's the managing director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and is als o the co-founder of the Monument Lab project here in Philadelphia.

I think it's just important to note, on our way out here, that it's great to have a conversation about what to take down and what to take away. I think it's just as important to think about how do we restore the absences that some of these monuments, once they're taken down, will leave.