COURTHOUSE – In the coming months, a committee formed by the historic preservation commission is considering the future of a Confederate monument near the historic courthouse at the municipal center — and how other elements of local history might be represented there.
The group, called the Princess Anne County Confederate Statue Roundtable, is expected to develop recommendations about how Virginia Beach should best address the monument, such as adding historical context or perhaps another statue to the courtyard where the monument has stood for more than a century.
The Princess Anne County Confederate Heroes Monument, showing a Confederate soldier, stands in what is today a little traveled area of the modern city’s municipal center near the intersection of Princess Anne and North Landing roads. Its location is historically significant, near the old Princess Anne County Courthouse, now used for offices.
Clashing interpretations of what the monument represents have become a local part of a wider, national conversation about monuments to the South’s past that remain on public grounds in modern times.
Such monuments are protected under Virginia law, but there have been calls to remove the monument here in the wake of violence at a rally organized in Charlottesville this past August by white supremacists.
“A lot of people didn’t even know it was there until Charlottesville,” said Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, a retired professor and former member of the Virginia Beach City Council who is serving on the committee.
On Thursday, Aug. 24, a rally for the removal of the statue took place at the courtyard in Virginia Beach. Counter protestors who wanted to see the monument preserved also attended. Additionally, about 45 people spoke on the topic during a meeting of the historic preservation commission later.
The Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission established the roundtable this past month and invited several community members to participate.
The advisory roundtable held its first meeting on Friday, Jan. 19, at City Hall. It included a trip to see the monument in the nearby courtyard. Meetings are open to the public. [Ed. — A story about that meeting and the likely direction of the roundtable’s work appears in the current print edition of The Independent News. It will be posted online later this month.]
Virginia Beach School Board Member Sharon Felton, who represents the Beach District, and attorney Jimmy Wood, will lead the roundtable, which includes historians, educators, human rights officials and local clergy among its membership.
“We are hopeful that through mutual respect and understanding, reasonable discussion, thoughtful deliberation and additional public engagement, we can find a way to bridge the differences that have come forward with this issue,” Felton and Wood, both of whom serve on the historical preservation commission, wrote in a letter sent to roundtable members.
“What Sharon and I are looking for is to get that diverse view,” Wood said during an interview. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more than one recommendation evolved from the subcommittee’s work.
“One of the first things I want to do at that first meeting is to be an active listener before I draw any more conclusions,” said Ross-Hammond, also is the founder and executive director for project management of the African American Cultural Center of Virginia Beach.
City Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, the council liaison to the commission, said the subcommittee represents a balanced group that will help develop recommendations that could be forwarded to the council.
Wilson said there is an opportunity to make a reasoned decision.
Last year, Mayor Will Sessoms said the city could tell a fuller story about its history, perhaps by including a new monument at the courtyard and providing context for those who visit the area.
“That’s kind of my hope, too,” Wilson said. “I hope we’ll be able to have more of a complete story. Right now we have a one sided story.”
Recommendations should come from the community, she added, and she anticipated funding to implement adopted ideas.
“I think the public should know we’ve listened, and we’re sensitive to it,” Wilson added. “All voices have been heard, and we want to respond to that. We want to do the right thing.”
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