Push to cancel IW monument hearing fails

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Isle of Wight County’s public hearing to decide the fate of its Confederate monument is still on for Sept. 3, despite a push by one member of its Board of Supervisors on Aug. 6 to cancel the event.

Don Rosie, who represents the county’s Carrsville District, made a motion during the Board’s work session that evening to rescind the vote taken on July 16 to schedule the hearing, stating he would prefer the county hold a voter referendum.

Per changes to state law that went into effect July 1, localities may now remove, relocate, cover or add signage contextualizing any Confederate monuments they own, provided they first hold a public hearing on the matter and advertise said hearing no less than 30 days prior. Localities are also permitted to petition their local Circuit Court for a voter referendum, provided this is done prior to initiating the public hearing process. Said referendum would be in an advisory capacity only, meaning the Board would be under no legal obligation to implement the will of the majority of referendum voters.

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Should localities opt for the referendum, a public hearing would still be required at a later date before they could take any action to move, cover or contextualize their monuments. State law further requires that localities, upon voting to remove or relocate their monuments, offer them for a period of 30 days to any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield, though they are under no obligation to accept any such offers. Were a referendum to be held the day of the Nov. 3 election, the next opportunity for Isle of Wight’s required public hearing would be Dec. 17, making Jan. 17, 2021 the earliest the monument could legally come down.

The monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905, features a Confederate soldier atop a granite base, and bears the following inscription: “Isle of Wight’s loving tribute, to her heroes of 1861 to 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. They bleed — we weep. We live — they sleep … Glorious is his fate, and envied is his lot, who for his country fights and for it dies. There is true glory and a true honor: the glory of duty done, the honor of the integrity of principle.”

“It’s a monument to the dead; it’s not a monument to the Confederacy as some people look at it,” Rosie said. “I believe there are a lot of folks who are intimidated and have difficulty coming into a public hearing and expressing their feelings. By doing it this way, you can vote individually and privately.”

“The largest portion of the people I have spoken to have said they will not attend the public meeting because they feel, right or wrong, they feel in the current situation in the country, that the terminology ‘racist,’ ‘bigot’ and so on and so forth is going to be utilized against them and their family,” Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice agreed.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who made the motion on July 16 to schedule the hearing and is the sole African American member of the Board, responded to Rosie’s concern by asking, rhetorically, who had historically been the “intimidators” in the county over the years.

“I don’t think that people of my complexion have been intimidators,” Jefferson said. “I think the ones that carry the flag, the Confederate flag, have been the intimidators in this county … they don’t want to come out to show their true colors, they want to do it in secret.”

Earlier that evening, Jefferson made an impassioned plea for moving forward with the hearing.

“Confederate flags, emblems, whatever, would always surface when the Black man was trying to get equal rights … what does that tell us about the Confederacy?” he said. “It told us that the Confederacy was for separation, in all ways wanted to keep the Black man as a subordinate of whites … why should we have a Confederate monument at the center of the government center? What does that tell a person, especially a person of my color? What does that tell me if I had to come here and go to court? First thing you see is a Confederate monument. It tells me right from the jump start that my chances are slim to none to be treated fairly.

“During the last meeting, we all sat here and we made an honest decision about the motion that I made. I didn’t make a motion to destroy the monument. My sole intent was that the monument don’t need to be on county-owned property … this is a golden opportunity for us as a diverse Board to make a decision and join the other localities in this state, in other states, to show we care about each other in this world. I am 67 years old, just about. I have seen discrimination. I have seen segregation. I’ve been in government buildings which still had painted on the wall ‘Black only,’ ‘white only.’ I’ve seen a lot of that stuff. Today is no time for us to continue down that same road.”

Rosie’s motion failed 3-2, with Newport District Supervisor William McCarty casting the tie-breaker. Rosie and Grice voted in favor of canceling the hearing, while Jefferson and Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree had voted in favor of proceeding with the hearing as scheduled.