Ed. — This originally ran in print on Dec. 7, 2018.
BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
COURTHOUSE – Roughly a year after it was formed, a group looking at the site of the Princess Anne Confederate Monument in a relatively secluded area near the historic Princess Anne County Courthouse is poised to deliver its draft recommendations.
The group is comprised of community leaders, including educators, clergy and historians, and it did not recommend removing the statue from the courtyard, citing a reading of state law by the city attorney’s office that said it could not be moved. But it will put forward ideas that provide “additional balanced and inclusive information” and context to the area of public land surrounding a 1905 statue that commemorates locals who served the Confederacy, among a number of such statues around the U.S. that have drawn modern scrutiny.
The recommendations may also lead to a “Reconciliation Park” near the existing statue, and the park could feature an additional statue or piece of public art representing African-American heritage here.
Members of the Princess Anne County Confederate Statue Roundtable, a subcommittee of the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission, met between January and May under the leadership of Virginia Beach School Board Member Sharon Felton and attorney Jimmy Wood, both members of the commission. The draft recommendations were completed in June, but will now go forward since the recent city political season is complete. Leaders of the roundtable hope to meet soon with new Mayor Bobby Dyer and brief him on the process. The recommendations would go to the commission and there would be a public input process, Wood said.
“I think that they had a really good committee to look at this thoroughly, with a lot of intelligent people from different sectors,” said City Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, who holds an at-large seat and is the council liaison to the historical preservation commission.
The recommendations still need to be reviewed and vetted by the public, she noted, but the draft is a strong first step.
“They were very thoughtful in what they did,” Wilson said of the roundtable’s work.
Initially, recommended steps focus upon adding historical context through an interpretive sign panel near the monument, an additional panel providing context at the old courthouse, and the installation of a plaque recognizing “the injustices done there as a primary location in the county for the sale of enslaved persons.”
“That’s a major part of the story of the courthouse that hasn’t been told,” Wood said.
The Reconciliation Park is proposed for an area near the intersection of Princess Anne and North Landing roads on the north side of the Princess Anne County Courthouse. It could include public art about the African-American experience providing “proportional balance to existing historical commemorative elements in that location.” The park “provides opportunities for increased understanding about the heritage of our citizens, both past and present … ”
Further down the road, the roundtable suggests city officials look into creating a general history museum for Virginia Beach.
“It would be a good avenue to tell some of that story and the story of Princess Anne County,” Wood said.
“There are different parts to that story,” he said, “but we want to find a way to represent people of all backgrounds and get people to hear the story of Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach – the good, the bad and the ugly – in a respectful manner.”
The draft recommendations will go to the commission, not directly to the City Council, and there would be some additional public input. They could be a public forum and the use of online tools to get public feedback on the draft recommendations.
Last year, there were calls to remove the monument here, as in other communities, following the August 2017 rally organized in Charlottesville by white supremacists which led to the death of a woman there when a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
A peaceful protest at the monument in Virginia Beach followed, with some calling for the removal of the statue and others for its preservation. In September 2017, the commission hosted a public meeting about the statue and decided in December 2017 to form the roundtable.
The roundtable members did not have a strong desire about moving the statue, even if it were possible to do so, according to the draft recommendations. They “generally expressed the opinion that the removal of the statue from its current location will do nothing to change our history and will do little toward promoting conversation and understanding among our citizens to help us begin to move beyond the deleterious impacts of human enslavement, a war that ended 150 years ago and a community history of divided realities.”
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