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Windsor to poll citizenry on monument

Windsor plans to poll its citizenry on the idea of moving Isle of Wight County’s Confederate monument to the town’s municipal cemetery — surveys that Mayor Glyn Willis acknowledged will cost the town approximately $1,000 if they are mailed with the town’s water bills.

It will also delay the county’s final vote on whether to move the monument anywhere at all by at least 60 to 90 days.

Currently, the monument stands outside the county’s courthouse complex, where it’s stood for the past 115 years. County residents who want it relocated, among them local NAACP Chapter President Valerie Butler, argue the statue glorifies the Confederacy and white supremacy, while those who wish it to stay argue removing it would be tantamount to erasing history.

Relocating the monument to Windsor’s cemetery had been the No. 1 recommendation of an eight-member task force the county had formed in October 2020, should Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors feel inclined to move it. But “consideration should be given to the fact that the cemetery in question is owned by a public body and how the citizens of the Town may feel about the relocation; particularly those who own plots or have family members interred there,” states a memorandum from Town Manager William Saunders to the Council members. Saunders’ memo further urges the Council members to consider the potential impact accepting the controversial monument may have on “those who may potentially explore Windsor as a future business site” and the town’s potential liability were the monument to be vandalized.

While the monument debate has been covered extensively for the past several months, there may be town residents that are “basically unaware of what we’re talking about,” said Councilman George Stubbs. “Do we make a decision to go forward with this or do we back up and say, ‘hey, we need to get word out to the citizens of Windsor before we do anything right now.’”

Councilman Greg Willis said he’s already received citizen commentary on moving the monument to Windsor and “it’s all been in support.” Councilman Walter Bernacki, however, said he’s received emails from citizens who are not in favor of the town accepting the statue.

Councilwoman Kelly Blankenship, citing a non-scientific poll conducted several months ago on The Smithfield Times’ website, in which roughly 70% of those who answered the survey indicated they would prefer the monument to remain at its current location, said she’d like to know “why the board is even considering moving it.”

“I personally have a concern with accepting the liability of this thing because it is a hot topic … and it feels like we’re moving a problem,” she said. “My vote would be that we say no thank you.”

Mayor Willis, who prefaced his remarks with a disclaimer that he has ancestors who served in the Confederate military, said that in his research on the matter, he could find no Black people known to be buried in the town’s cemetery, nor Black-owned plots.

“The history of the cemetery is we were segregated in life and we should still be segregated in death … I don’t think that history is right,” Willis said, adding that in his personal opinion, it would be “inappropriate” for a Confederate monument to be placed in a cemetery that is supposed to be for all town residents.

He further stated that the monument, were it to be moved to Windsor’s cemetery, would be a “one-of-[a-kind],” as there are no other memorials in the cemetery currently to individuals who died in any other U.S. war.

“I know for a fact there are individuals of other U.S. wars buried in the cemetery; my Uncle Marvin died in France in World War II,” he said. “After being originally interred in France, he was moved to the plot after the war.”