The Loudoun Board of Supervisors will not seek authority from the Virginia General Assembly in January to move or remove a statue of a Confederate soldier that stands in front of the county courthouse.
On Wednesday, the supervisors narrowly defeated a motion by Board Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) to request that the General Assembly amend state law to give the county discretion over the bronze statue, which was erected in 1908. Under state law, Virginia localities are not permitted to “disturb or interfere with” war memorials.
Instead, the supervisors voted to ask the county’s 16-member Heritage Commission to review the matter and make recommendations. Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) proposed involving the commission after violent clashes in Charlottesville last month raised questions about the appropriateness of Confederate monuments on public grounds.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Sept. 8, Higgins advocated adding memorials to Loudoun’s slaves and Union soldiers to the site, rather than removing the Confederate memorial.
“I don’t believe that we should be taking down monuments,” Higgins said during the meeting. “I think we should be putting up other monuments to tell the whole story.”
The mood in the packed board room was calm and respectful during the meeting, which started Wednesday afternoon and extended past midnight. Twenty residents spoke on the issue, and the audience followed Randall’s directive to refrain from cheering or clapping, and instead expressed support by waving their hands silently.
R.J. Hall of Leesburg likened the removal of Confederate monuments to the destruction of statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
“Nowadays, it’s not enough to acknowledge and confess our sins of the past. It seems we must eliminate anything that reminds us of them,” Hall said. “If we follow this rationale to its natural conclusion, literally everything in humankind will need to be destroyed as part of the purge.”
Harold Brown of Leesburg said, “We have better things to do . . . than to fight over a statue. Give me a break.
“I can come up with a complaint about every statue,” Brown added. “Martin Luther King, someone I really respect, cheated on his wife. . . . Should we remove that?”
Brittany Rose of Leesburg said the issue is “really not about history — it is about what we choose to celebrate.
“To walk past the courthouse that celebrates people who fought for folks like me to be treated as property is a smack in the face every day,” Rose said. “It sends the wrong message to people who expect to be treated fairly here, and it sends a message to folks who think that, because of the color of their skin, they should be treated differently in our country.”
Michelle C. Thomas of Lansdowne said, “A terrorist is a terrorist unless it terrorizes African Americans. And that statue terrorizes African Americans. That statue does not honor the veterans of a war. It honors the memory of Jim Crow and the ideals that African Americans . . . have a certain place.”
The supervisors were evenly divided on the proposal to seek local authority over the statue.
“I don’t support getting local control for this issue, because the reason for that is to take the statue down,” Higgins said. “Are we going to take down the Vietnam [Veterans] Memorial in 50 years when we decide that’s an unjust war?” Later in the meeting, he referred to the removal of statues as “historic ethnic cleansing.”
Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said, “As a white woman, I cannot even imagine what it is like to experience the kind of terror that was spoken of here tonight, that that statue represents to so many in our community. But I know that it represents that to them, and they have an absolute right not to have it slap them in the face every day.”
Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) noted that the courthouse grounds had once been the site of slave auctions and people locked in stocks. Mobs “took some members of the [African American] community out of the jail, and walked them down some Leesburg streets, and hung them on trees in Leesburg,” he said. “Are we going to put statues up of those type of things?”
Randall’s motion to seek local authority over the statue failed in a tie vote, with Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) abstaining. The supervisors voted, 7 to 2, to refer the matter to the Heritage Commission, with Randall and Saines opposed.