Focus of group addressing the Confederate monument in Virginia Beach is context, not removing statue

Members of the roundtable visited the 1905 monument near Princess Anne and North Landing roads toward the end of their Friday, Jan. 19 meeting. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

COURTHOUSE – A group tasked with suggesting an approach toward dealing with the Confederate monument on public property is not pursuing its removal from a courtyard at the municipal center.

Rather, it is poised to examine ways of telling a fuller story of local history at the site, and the group may return one or more recommendations about how Virginia Beach can do so.

This initial consensus among the members about how to move forward – coupled with an opinion by the city attorney that the monument cannot be moved under state law – means recommendations coming from the committee likely will focus upon adding historical context and potentially new features near where the monument stands, such as an additional statue.

Members of the Princess Anne County Confederate Statue Roundtable held their first meeting on Friday, Jan. 19, at City Hall. Virginia Beach School Board Member Sharon Felton and attorney Jimmy Wood are leading the group. Both are members of the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission, which formed the roundtable in December.

Felton said the group would work to “bridge the differences that have come forward.” There were calls to remove the monument here, as in other communities, following a rally organized in Charlottesville this past August by white supremacists. Shortly after that rally concluded, a woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Later that month in Virginia Beach, protesters seeking removal of the monument met at the courtyard, and people seeking its preservation also attended to hold a counter-protest nearby. A meeting of the historic preservation commission followed in September, bringing dozens of speakers and leading, ultimately, to creation of the roundtable.

Members of the roundtable were briefed about these events and provided with a summary of feedback received by the city on the issue. Mark Reed, the city’s historic preservation planner, guided them through some of the background, noting that a number of people had not been aware the city even had a Confederate statue before the events in Charlottesville drew attention to monuments.

Wood said the roundtable might reach a consensus on a proposal or, perhaps, offer more than one proposal.

“There are going to be some difficult choices, some difficult areas of history, but we also need to look at the times we are living in now,” said Raj Islam, chairperson of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission and a member of the roundtable.

Discussion during an initial meeting touched upon difficult feelings and responses to the statue, but the conversation suggested the group will consider adding “context” to the area near the statue and may seek to add something else to the courtyard such as an additional statue, possibly a representation of African-American life.

“I think what I’m hearing is that we want to tell the rest of the story here,” said City Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, council liaison to the historic preservation commission.

A committee is working to develop recommendations for the site of a Confederate monument at the municipal center in Virginia Beach. Sharon Felton, co-chair of the group, said members would help “bridge the differences” that emerged about the monument. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

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