Editorial: There is room for more history at the site of the Confederate monument in Virginia Beach


There are generalizations in the discussion about whether a monument to those from Princess Anne County who served the Confederacy should stay put in a public courtyard, but a promising idea has emerged to build more while preserving what exists.

The Independent News supports an approach that could tell a fuller story of our community’s past through thoughtful addition rather than reactionary subtraction. A new monument is not mere compromise to avoid a controversial removal. This is an opportunity for our city.

Obviously, the existing monument strikes different people differently. It strains logic when we judge or prescribe another’s reaction. Few people may have known about the statue showing a common soldier standing in a little-traveled area at the old courthouse building near the intersection of Princess Anne and North Landing roads. Ripples from Charlottesville came to this shore. People know it now.

This statue has historical value, whether or not its value matches the goals of those who erected it more than a century ago. Value can be found in the fact that it has so many meanings to the diverse people who behold it. To some, the monument may represent those who served Confederate forces during the Civil War. To others, it may signal an era that indisputably included slavery, a painful preface to modern American life. Our history is complex and flawed and challenging because human beings are made of such qualities. 

Even if we accept the monument, alone it can be interpreted as too selective in its telling of history in a public place. As in many communities, the wounds of racism existed even when they were not made clear. These wounds remain. Recently, our nation has seen a shameful emboldening of hate. In Virginia Beach, we can signal our rejection of hatred by better representation of our community on public land.

Our city council will decide whether the statue will remain on public property. Regardless of factors such as the state law protecting such monuments, city leaders should decide. Mayor Will Sessoms, speaking during a recent council retreat and later during an interview, said there are challenges to moving the existing statue but possibilities to provide “context and contrast” at the site. The city council awaits information from the historical preservation commission, Sessoms said, but there may be a public role in adding to the the courtyard — just as the old county government helped pay for the Confederate statue.

The city should add to the courtyard near the former county courthouse. We can tell other stories on public ground, and we can do far more than balance out some imagined scale. An inscription on the front of the monument — “Princess Anne County Confederate Heroes” — is helpful. Those who endured slavery can represent heroism, but those who helped challenge oppression as champions of civil rights demand consideration. We can tell a fuller story with new faces of heroism in this courtyard. The spot was all but forgotten, but we find opportunity in its rediscovery. Give it new use.

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC


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