After the violence in August in Charlottesville, Va., where one person died during white supremacist rallies protesting the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, counties around the country are coming face to face with what to do about symbols of the Confederacy in their own hometowns.
There are more than 1,500 such monuments in public spaces, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In all, there are 718 monuments and statues, mostly in the South but scattered across 31 states, as well as 109 public schools named for Confederate war heroes.
In some states, county officials do not have any say over what happens to war memorials due to state laws designed to preserve them. In some states, they do.
A polarizing vote on local control of a 109-year old statue
In Loudoun County, Va., a motion to ask the General Assembly to give local government authority over war memorials was met with a tie vote Sept. 20, with one member abstaining. Twenty residents spoke out on the issue in a meeting that went on past midnight. Some residents are calling for the removal of a statue of a Confederate soldier that stands on the county courthouse grounds there, while others say it should stay. The statue was spray-painted with graffiti Aug. 17.
“I think it should be up to the locality to decide,” said Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, who introduced the measure that was voted down.
If given local authority, “I’d hope to have an open community dialogue,” she said. “And at the end of that process, then we could decide.”
As for a suggestion by a fellow supervisor that other statues be added to the lawn? That would be up to residents to decide, she said. But Randall, the first African American elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said she “personally” would find it offensive to have a statue of a slave next to the statue of a Confederate soldier.