Surry attorney says statue stays

Published 12:50 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

SURRY — Surry’s Confederate statue will remain. For now.

Surry County attorney Brendan Hefty said the Board of Supervisors has no authority to move the statue, which stands in front of the circuit court building, based on current Virginia law.

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“The county currently does not have the authority under state law to disturb, remove or interfere with that monument,” he said Thursday at the Surry Board of Supervisors meeting. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Retired Surry County judge Gammiel Poindexter recently asked that the Board remove the statue following violence that ensued during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Hefty did indicate that he expects new legislation to go before the General Assembly, and he urged those interested in the issue to contact their state delegate or senator.

Several people spoke about the monument, which is of a single cavalry soldier and inscribed with “Our Heroes, 1861-1865.”

The only African-American resident to speak on the issue was Jeremiah Williams of Dendron, who called the statue a “pile of concrete.”

“We talk about our statues. It is nothing more than a symbol of behavior that is reflected in those statues. If we change the behavior, then the statues become irrelevant. But as long as we have those statues, even if we take them down, if the behavior continues, we still have a problem. So what we need to do is to look at how do we address the problems associated with the symbols of those Confederates statues,” he said.

Others described the statues as honoring the dead and the losses that the South experienced during and after the Civil War. Some described how far Surry has come since those days, noting that the county has many prominent people of both races.

“It can’t be about racial divide, it’s been sitting there for 100 years. It has nothing to do with race, and the county has blended very well since then,” said Randy Olin of the Cobham District.

Helen Eggleston of Dendron was concerned that removing the statue would create more friction.

“It’s just going to provide one more wedge between the black and the white community, between black and white neighbors,” she said, adding that “we don’t celebrate the war, we remember the ancestors that died in it.”

After public comments were done, Board Chairperson Judy Lyttle said, “It’s good to hear what you’re thinking. We think too. We don’t have any power to do anything with that statue. But again, I know it’s good to get things off your chest, and so that’s what we’ve allowed for you to do this evening.”

Poindexter was disappointed at the Board’s response.

“I had hoped that our Surry County Board of Supervisors, whose members are acutely aware of the many men and women who worked in the struggle and risked their lives and livelihood to bring progressive changes and equal opportunity to Surry County, would at least considered freeing us from the image projected by the Confederate statue and the goals of the Confederate Army. We are a better county and community because of the efforts those real life heroes who fought against segregation and the legacy of slavery. That statue is demeaning and offensive to so many people, both black and white, in our beloved Surry County. It is time for a new chapter in our county’s rich history where we decide to let go of the remnants of our past and close that chapter on our dark history,” Poindexter wrote in a Sept. 11 email.

Isle of Wight County

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors was asked at its last meeting to remove its Confederate statue, which also sits in front of the courthouse complex.

Isle of Wight County NAACP President Valerie Butler made the request at the Aug. 17 meeting, and also in response to the rally turned violent in Charlottesville.

The rally was held in response to the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and rename Lee Park to Emancipation Park.

Other than a few comments, the Board has not yet taken an official stand.

Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight Avengers Camp #14 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans recently had a guest who spoke about why it’s important to preserve Virginia’s Confederate monuments.

Teresa Roane, who is African-American, is an archivist for the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond. Roane also noted that she had a black Confederate soldier-ancestor who fought in the Civil War.

She was adamant that the statues were a way for southerners to remember those four years of the war.

“We were invaded. The South was destroyed. We are still grieving. We do not want to forget. People do not understand what it was like,” Roane said.

She also noted that people assume that because she’s black, she would not think like that.

“This is a 21st century moral judgment of our past,” she said.

Keith Morris, commander of the Isle of Wight Avengers Camp #14, said the Surry County’s attorney’s advice seemed to calm the fires a bit. Morris said some of his members plan to attend the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 21.

“The SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) as a whole does not stand for any form of violence as seen in Charlottesville, and we certainly do not condone “hate” groups using our flags inappropriately,” he said.

Staff writer Ryan Kushner contributed to this report.  {/mprestriction}