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Loudoun officials vote to remove ‘Silent Sentinel’ Confederate monument

Loudoun County officials voted to return this statue of a Confederate soldier outside the county courthouse to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Loudoun County officials voted this week to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier from its place in front of the county courthouse where it has stood since 1908, returning it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

After a majority of the County Board of Supervisors publicly signaled last month they would vote to remove the statue, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which paid for the statue, wrote to the county requesting it be taken down and returned to them.

The board on Tuesday unanimously agreed — although at least one board member said he only voted to return the statue to the group, but otherwise opposed its removal.

The statue is one of a growing number of Confederate monuments removed by local governments or toppled by protesters amid renewed calls for racial justice sparked by the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The Confederate statue “Appomattox,” which stood in Alexandria for 131 years, was removed last month by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, city spokesman Craig Fifer said. Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, also has torn down Confederate statues.

For Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), the first African American chair of the board of supervisors, Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of years of work to take the statue down.

“This is the end of a very long fight. The statue should never have been put up,” she said. “People say, ‘Don’t you think you’re erasing history?’ The truth is we are correcting history.”

But Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) said he disagreed with the removal, only voting for the measure because the United Daughters of the Confederacy requested its statue back.

“It’s dishonest to say we have to tear this down because it was put up for oppressive reasons,” Kershner said. “We shouldn’t be removing history from our public square. It’s a very dangerous precedent that gets set.”

Last year, both the board and the United Daughters of the Confederacy said they were against the statue’s removal, despite Randall’s efforts as chair. That changed after the November election gave Democrats control of the board, Randall said, and the Virginia legislature voted to allow localities to take down the monuments amid a statewide reckoning with its Confederate past.

The monument in front of the county courthouse in Leesburg, called “Silent Sentinel,” depicts a Confederate soldier holding a musket. A plaque at the base reads: “In memory of the Confederate soldiers of Loudoun County.”

Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, said she has also tried to get the monument removed for years.

“It is overdue for the preservation of justice and for the full truth of the American experience to be told in a way that we no longer glorify the oppressors,” Thomas said. “It is a testament to who we are in Loudoun. While statues are being toppled over in anger, we’re following the rules of justice, to gain justice.”

Stephen Price, a lawyer for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said he was happy with the county’s decision and saw it as a sign that officials didn’t want the statues being vandalized. The group has not yet set a date for the removal, he said, although the county has said the group must take the statue down by Sept. 7.

Randall said she has gotten some pushback from constituents who disagree with the statue’s removal. But, she said, while Confederate soldiers are a part of history that should be remembered, that history shouldn’t be commemorated with large statues in the town square.

“History sits in books. History sits in museums. History sits in libraries and films,” Randall said. “There is an enormous difference between understanding and recognizing history, versus celebrating history. The idea of removing a statue erasing history — it just falls flat in its face. This is a proud day.”

This story has been updated to note that the United Daughters of the Confederacy removed the “Appomattox” statue in Alexandria last month.

Rachel Chason contributed to this report.

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