In August 2017, six African American women in their 60s and 70s who live nearby petitioned the county commission to remove the small plaque. They told commissioners they found the marker offensive because it paid tribute to Confederate soldiers who had fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. The women said the tribute shouldn’t be posted on a public building, much less the county courthouse, which was the site of auctions of enslaved people before the Civil War.
“It is impossible to enter the courthouse to conduct business or to even vote without being taunted by its presence,” the women wrote in a letter last year to the commission. “The plaque perpetuates division at all levels on a wider scale.”
The plaque, erected May 25, 1986, reads: 1861-1865 In honor and memory of the Confederate soldiers of Jefferson County, who served in the War Between the States. Erected by the Leetown Chapter #231 United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The women’s request to remove the plaque came just days after the violent white-supremacist marches and rallies in Charlottesville, which began as a protest of that city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
The county commissioners voted 5 to 0 last year to keep the plaque in place, but two commissioners later said they would change their vote. The debate over the plaque played a role in November’s election.
Commissioner Peter Onoszko, a Republican who strongly supported keeping the plaque on the courthouse, was ousted by Democratic challenger Ralph Lorenzetti, who wanted the plaque removed.
With Lorenzetti taking his seat last week, the commission revisited the plaque issue and voted to take it off the building and return it to the Leetown Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that placed it on the building 32 years ago.
Following the vote, the commissioners directed county staff to remove the plaque “within a reasonable amount of time,” Lorenzetti said in an interview Monday. The reasonable amount of time turned out to be less than 24 hours.
“When I went by Friday night, the first thought I had was that this was for our ancestors. This is for you all,” Linda Ballard, one of the women who had petitioned the commission in 2017, said in an interview Monday. “We stood the test until it was finished. Now, I’m free. I can go in and out of there and not be taunted.”