IW may vote on monument Thursday

Published 3:49 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A discussion of Isle of Wight’s Confederate monument is on the agenda for Thursday, but the county’s Board of Supervisors may or may note take a final vote on the statue’s fate.

Six days ago, the matter was put to a public hearing, which drew more than 40 speakers in person and additional written comments and petitions. Changes to state law that took effect July 1 require such a hearing before any locality can legally remove, relocate, cover or add signage contextualizing its monuments.

Erected in 1905 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Isle of Wight monument depicts a Confederate soldier standing atop a granite base engraved with the following words:

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“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 a true glory and a true honor: the glory of duty done, the honor of integrity of principle.”

The monument is located in front of the county’s circa-1801 courthouse, a building that now houses the county’s Board of Supervisors boardroom and its Planning and Zoning department offices.

Some Board members have already voiced an opinion on the issue.

“It’s a monument to the dead; it’s not a monument to the Confederacy as some people look at it,” Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie said during an Aug. 6 work session at which he and Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice pushed for the Sept. 3 hearing to be canceled in favor of a voter referendum. In response, the Board’s sole African American member, Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, made an impassioned plea for leaving the hearing as scheduled.

“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. “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?”

During the Board’s July 16 meeting, Grice compared removing the monument to demolishing the Schoolhouse Museum on Main Street in Smithfield.

“Every time I drive into Smithfield I see a tiny schoolhouse across from Main Street Baptist Church … are the departing parishioners of that church every Sunday affronted and reminded of the evils of segregation?” Grice said. “Should we remove that memorial because it affronts or reminds us of something that is an ugly part of our history? I don’t think so.”

When contacted on Sept. 11 regarding whether any of the comments made during the hearing had impacted his views and how he might vote, Grice said he was still reviewing the 90-some emailed remarks Board members had received on the matter.

“I’m still weighing a decision on that,” he said.

Rosie, likewise, didn’t say whether his views had changed since the hearing.

“I, and I believe the other Board members, are still listening to the citizens and studying the issues surrounding this historical decision, which no one should take lightly,” he said.

None of the other Board members responded by press time as to whether their views had shifted.

Rosie’s Aug. 6 motion to cancel the hearing failed 3-2 when Newport District Supervisor William McCarty cast the tie-breaker.