Ed. — This originally ran in the Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020, print edition.
OCEANFRONT — The Virginia Beach City Council in July voted to remove a 1905 Confederate monument from public property near the old county courthouse at the municipal center in the Courthouse area.
The decision, enabled by a state law allowing municipalities to remove such statues and hastened by recent unrest, was expected, and the monument was gone within two days.
The City Council vote followed a public hearing on Thursday, July 23, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. City officials already had discussed possibly locating the statue to private property in the southern city, yet Virginia Beach is required to consider options and offers for the statue.
Officials heard some, including brief remarks from a nonprofit that has offered to put the monument on private property, as well as a number of comments about how the statue to some people represents slavery and institutional racism in the U.S. while it represents heritage and history to some other people.
The hearing came during a special meeting called about a statue that has long been located in a relatively secluded area near the intersection of Princess Anne and North Landing roads.
Teresa Stanley read a letter from a regional organization called Hands United Building Bridges that is dedicated to racial justice, and its members support moving the statue.
“Even as Confederate monuments pay tribute to war veterans, their strategic placement pointed to motives beyond simply honoring the dead,” Stanley said. “Many Confederate monuments like the one in Virginia Beach were erected at courthouses, places of public trust for equal justice. And, like the one in Virginia Beach, many were placed in the same locations that years earlier had served as whipping posts and auction blocks for enslaved persons.”
Considering the “landscape of the time” and strategic placement of monuments, the letter notes, monuments meant more than honoring the dead. “We believe these vestiges to a lost cause must come down,” she said.
The group supports moving them to places where they can be part of a larger public discussion about local and national history.
Jamal Gunn, a member of the Human Rights Commission, said the City Council and public should keep in mind why they were there – a representation of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” and the legacy of slavery.
“That is represented by the statue at our municipal center,” Gunn said. “We have to realize what a lost cause actually is. These statues weren’t erected on principles of dignity and loyalty. They were raised as a brutal reminder to my ancestors that, ‘We lost a battle, but we are still better than you.’ They were the ones that actually rewrote history.”
Gunn added: “It needs to be removed immediately, and, frankly, we all should be ashamed with ourselves that we kept it up as long as we have.”
Other speakers said monuments recognized service of people who lived in Princess Anne County and served their home. Some wanted it to remain in place or be put somewhere safe amid a time in which monuments in other communities have been torn down.
Wendy Hayslett of Hampton said she is descended from a Confederate soldier and grew up in Virginia Beach. She said the monument could go to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation for preservation and protection. She wore a face covering that showed the Confederate battle flag while she spoke.
“In the unfortunate event that a monument to a Union or a Confederate soldier or Civil War officer, or a commander, civilians of the period – both enslaved or free – are removed from their original locations,” she said, “and if said monument is considered relevant to the story of the struggle of the Civil War, Shenandoah Battlefields is open to assisting the appropriate relocation of such monuments to the national historic district.”
She said she wanted to preserve the monument for her children. “This is a part of American history,” she said, adding that she and her family honor all American war veterans.
After a number of speakers, including some people who joined the meeting remotely, the City Council unanimously voted to clear the way for the statue’s removal and relocation.
Vice Mayor Jim Wood, who represents the Lynnhaven District, passed around a resolution to remove and store the monument and solicit possible relocation sites, and he moved its adoption.
The resolution notes the monument is for many people “a divisive reminder of a painful past,” and public property at the municipal center should not be where it is located.
A site on private property in the southern city is a possible relocation site, the resolution notes, but the city will solicit suggestions from museums, historical groups and historical battlefield organizations.
After 30 days, city staff will review proposals and report back to the City Council. Meanwhile, the monument, which in recent weeks has been covered and behind fencing amid unrest, will be stored.
The resolution passed without further comment from members of the City Council. After the vote, Mayor Bobby Dyer thanked people for participating and civility “in a difficult discussion.”
As The Independent News reported in June, the city has had informal discussions about an offer from the Princess Anne Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the local United Daughters of the Confederacy about relocating the monument to an undisclosed private site in the rural section of the city.
Kenneth Harris of the Princess Anne Camp told The Independent News the groups reached out to the city after monuments were toppled or damaged elsewhere.
He said he hopes the statue will be available in a new location to people who want to learn about local history.
Workers disassembled the monument on Saturday, July 25, and took sections away.
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