Fate of IW Confederate monument in county board’s hands come July

Published 5:02 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff Writer


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Virginia localities will be allowed to remove any Confederate monuments they own starting July 1, per legislation the General Assembly passed earlier this year.

But the fate of Isle of Wight County’s Confederate soldier statue, erected in 1905 outside what was then the county’s courthouse, remains uncertain. Amid efforts in Richmond and elsewhere to remove Confederate-era statues, defenders of the Isle of Wight statue already are making the case for it to stay right where it is.

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, a public hearing would be required prior to any decision to remove it.

“Public input would certainly influence where it would go, and what might replace it if it is removed,” Robertson said.

He added that he was not aware of any recent discussion of the monument among Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors, nor of any substantive citizen commentary on the subject since the aftermath of the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017.

That rally was intended to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville but turned violent when white supremacists, neo-Nazis and armed militia groups, many from out of state, clashed with counterprotesters over the course of two days. Several dozen people were injured, and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when James Alex Fields Jr., an avowed white supremacist who has since been convicted of Heyer’s murder, plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Days after the rally, Isle of Wight NAACP Chapter President Valerie Butler asked during a meeting of the county’s Board of Supervisors that the statue be removed, stating that she had received several phone calls from county residents concerned that a similarly violent rally would soon occur in Isle of Wight. At that time, however, the fate of the statue was out of the county’s hands.

Now, Butler may again push for the monument’s removal. The Isle of Wight NAACP discussed this matter at a recent meeting, she said, and still has concerns, now more than ever, in light of the protests that have erupted across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with Floyd’s murder, and the three other former officers involved in the incident are charged with aiding and abetting.

Carrsville-area resident Volpe Boykin, who anticipates a renewed debate over the statue in the near future, believes it should stay.

“About 4% of the entire white population (of Isle of Wight County) and a much higher percentage of white males died of disease or in battle after becoming members of the Confederate Army,” Boykin said. “Many more were crippled for life, like my ancestor. Almost all were just gone. They were sent off to war and just did not come back. Most were buried near where they fell, although a few were later moved from battlefields to military cemeteries, but far from Isle of Wight County. This is why there is a monument to Confederate dead at our courthouse.”

The monument reads: “Isle of Wight’s loving tribute to her heroes of 1861-1865: They bravely fought, they bravely fell, they wore the gray, they wore it well. Bright were the lives they gave for us, the land they struggled to save for us will not forget its warriors yet who sleep in so many graves for us.”

“Does anything in that glorify the Confederacy, the slavery atrocity or the Civil War? I think not,” Boykin said.

Last week, in the wake of nationwide protests, Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, citing his executive authority under the Code of Virginia to remove a work of art owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Today, Virginia is home to more Confederate commemorations than any other state,” Northam said. “That’s true because generations ago, Virginia made the decision not to celebrate unity, but to honor the cause of division … In Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history.  … Yes, that statue has been there for a long time. But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now. So we’re taking it down.”