In Surry, more questions await

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Surry County is not alone in its decision last week to remove a Confederate monument from the courthouse grounds. Across the state and nation, such statues are coming down.

Wrongly, some are coming down by force, as protesters take the law into their own hands. Monument opponents in Surry, to their credit, channeled their energy constructively through a petition and with phone calls and emails to county supervisors, who voted 4-0, with one board member absent, to remove the statue. The supervisors’ vote was enabled by a change in state law that took effective July 1 after General Assembly passage and Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.

That’s the way the process should work in a constitutional republic. Ideally, such a hot-button topic wouldn’t have been debated virtually, but in person, with citizens able to look their elected representatives in the eye. But in the era of COVID-19, Surry officials have deemed in-person meetings unsafe. Those disappointed by the decision can register their displeasure at the ballot box.

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In the current political and social climate, monuments to the Confederate States of America and the soldiers who fought for it seem destined to no longer sit in town squares, in front of courthouses or other prominent public places. Isle of Wight supervisors will soon have their own debate on the topic.

Momentum nationwide is on the side of removal. Even the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a 70-year-old nonprofit organization that says its mission is to save historic sites, has advocated removal of Confederate monuments as necessary “to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality.”

“We believe it is past time for us, as a nation, to acknowledge that these symbols do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to, our values and to our foundational obligation to continue building a more perfect union that embodies equality and justice for all,” the organization said in a recent statement.

Clearly, we’re living through a monumental shift in what our public spaces look like. But as statues and monuments come down, other important conversations await.

Where will the monument be moved?

How will relocation be funded?

Will Surry Countians find a way to unite around a reimagined courthouse square?

Will a new monument be erected? If not, will anything fill the vacated space?

And most important, will citizens and their elected leaders seize the moment, talk about the racial division that made Confederate monuments a flashpoint and explore a more harmonious future? We hope so.

Surry may have found the answer to one hotly debated item, but there are many other questions with which the community will have to grapple in the near future.