Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Washington Post on Oct. 12, 1988.
Alexandria’s most celebrated Confederate soldier, felled by a machine that didn’t exist when he was forged, will return to his century-long outpost at a busy city intersection.
In a unanimous move, the City Council overrode the sentiments of some black Alexandria residents last night and voted to restore the eight-foot bronze statue to its traditional spot, from which it was toppled in August by an errant van.
“I just had to reflect on the history” in the statue, said council member William C. Cleveland (R), one of two black council members. “So to me, the statue must go back just for that connection,” he said.
“I hope it remains there another 99 years,” said council member Michael Jackson (D).
The statue, with head bowed, arms crossed and back to the Yankee north, marks the spot where Alexandria’s Confederate soldiers marched off to battle Union troops on May 24, 1861, barely a month after the Civil War began. The statue was erected in 1889, when traffic meant horse-and-buggy tie-ups.
The monument, in the middle of South Washington and Prince streets, has long been a bone of contention. For some Alexandria blacks, it has been a painful reminder of the struggle to preserve slavery, while for many of the city’s history buffs, it has been a symbol of a lost but well-fought war.
The vote was a defeat for Mayor James P. Moran Jr. (D), who had proposed putting the unarmed infantryman in the garden of the Lyceum Museum, just a stone’s throw from its original site.
“I know that my view is not shared by the vast majority of the community, and I respect their opinion,” said Moran, who has received more than 300 letters demanding that the statue be returned to its traditional site.
In a later vote however, the council endorsed Moran’s suggestion that a residents’ task force be formed to look into a second statue that would honor a black Alexandria resident who has achieved national recognition.
Despite the unanimous vote, some council members noted their concerns that the city could be liable for damages in a future accident.
The council also instructed City Manager Vola Lawson to ask the state highway department for funds to construct a grassy median strip along South Washington Street just south of the statue to better guide traffic around the monument.
Neither the statue nor the driver of the van was seriously injured in the August accident. The cost of reerecting the statue will be picked up by the motorist’s insurance company, Lawson said.
In other action, the council voted 5 to 2 to hold a public hearing Saturday on a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in housing, employment and other areas.
Cleveland and council member Lionel R. Hope (D) voted against the call for a hearing. “I personally feel there are enough laws on the books to protect gays or anybody else,” Hope said.
The bill, introduced by Jackson, would make Alexandria the second Virginia locality, after Arlington County, to pass such legislation. A similar bill was rejected by the council two years ago.