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Stay or go: Crowd debates fate of county’s Confederate statue

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, NAACP President Troy Bowers asked county supervisors, on behalf of the NAACP, to remove the Confederate monument that stands on Courthouse Square in Boydton. Above, Members of the crowd Tuesday morning at the Park View High School gymnasium. (Susan Kyte photos) / September 16, 2020
Sentiment on removing the Confederate soldier statue that stands at the Courthouse in Boydton was split along racial lines as citizens weighed in on the question at a public hearing Tuesday morning in South Hill.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors called the hearing in the gymnasium of Park View High School to receive comments about the statue, which has stood in front of the courthouse building for more than 112 years.

After hearing from both sides on the issue, supervisors agreed to defer any decision on the monument’s future until their next board meeting on Monday, Oct. 13.

Keep the Statue

Most of the speakers who favored keeping the statue in place — all of whom were White — also asked board members to put the question to the voters in a referendum to be held as soon as possible in 2021. Jackie Hinman told the Board of Supervisors that they were not a fair representation of the county’s population and for that reason, county voters, not supervisors, should decide the fate of the statue.

Paul Spain was one of the few speakers to offer an alternative to the “stay or go” choices put forward by most at the public hearing. While he favors a referendum on the issue, Spain called on the county to erect a second statue, instead of removing the existing one.

The new statue, he said, should be of a person recognized as a “hero of the African struggle for equality” such as Frederick Douglas or Dr. Martin Luther King. “History matters, both good and bad,” Spain told supervisors.

Loretta House, the only non-white speaker to offer an alternative to removing the statue, said that if it must stay, supervisors should change the wording at the base of the statue to honor “all soldiers of all wars” — not just Confederate soldiers. House also noted that the monument as it currently stands is “offensive,” particularly because it is located in a public area.

Two common themes emerged among speakers who favored keeping the statue unchanged at its current location. They argued the statue is a symbol of many things, but not slavery. Several who argued to keep the monument said those who try to erase history would not learn from it. Some blamed protestors in the Black Lives Matter movement and “the mob” with creating unrest — and pleaded with supervisors not to give in.

Mecklenburg County Republican Party Unit Chair Wally Hudson, Charles Jackson and Glenn Hudson attributed the current push to remove symbols of the Confederacy to domestic terrorists, communists, Marxists, and agitators. They lumped Black Lives Matter protesters in with members of Antifa, an anti-fascist, left-wing political movement that has been blamed for violence and looting in U.S. cities, although evidence for that claim is disputed in many situations.

Jackson told supervisors that keeping the statue would be a continued sign of respect to the people of Mecklenburg County who paid for the monument, as well as a “stand against what’s going on in the rest of the country” with riots and desecration of public memorials.

The other theme focused on the monument as a tribute to soldiers, or as Jimmy Cox put it, “soldiers serving in any military who deserve the respect of those they served.” Others described the monument as a tribute to fighting men who stood up against a tyrannical government and invading forces.

When some speakers claimed the monument was as much a tribute to the Black soldiers who fought with the Confederacy as it was to the White soldiers, they were rebuffed by Black speakers, who explained that slaves did not fight voluntarily but were conscripted into the Confederate Army by their white slaveowners.

Relocate the statue

Those who urged the board to consider removing the statue from the Courthouse Square said it was about doing the right thing.

“Most of us grew up with that statue. It was the first thing we saw when we came to Boydton,” explained Gloria Townsend, who grew up in Mecklenburg County in the Jim Crow era. She said the statue serves as a reminder of the area’s racist past with segregated water fountains, the Ku Klux Klan intimidating students at historically black St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, and schools shuttered for five years to avoid court-ordered integration.

“I’ve seen it, heard it, and been called it,” said Townsend, who is Black, in asking the Board of Supervisors to remove the statue from the square.

Mecklenburg County NAACP President Troy Bowers said the NAACP favors removing the Confederate statue from the courthouse grounds. Others making the same request included the Herman Lundy, a member of the NAACP and husband of South Hill-area supervisor Claudia Lundy, and Jean Spain, wife of Boydton-area supervisor Glanzy Spain.

Latasha Harris chided those who said the statue represents the history of Mecklenburg County. “You can’t learn history from those who don’t know it,” she said. Removing the statue from the Courthouse Square would send a positive message to a younger generation “who want to come together in a new light” and shun the “hatred, evil and separation” of their forebears, Harris said. She asked board members to move the soldier statue to a new location where those who wish to honor the Confederacy can do so.

Debbie Ackerman was the only White speaker to express support for moving the statue. She said she chose to move Mecklenburg County two years ago because of its diversity, although she felt the statue took away from the positive vibes of the community. Ackerman said the statue is better suited for a museum where it could be studied in context.

Charles Farrar addressed the symbolism of the statue by reminding supervisors it was erected shortly after the Supreme Court legalized racial separation in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. That decision was handed down in 1896. “It was one of the worst decisions of the Supreme Court, but after that monuments were erected,” Farrar explained.

“Its presence does not convey equality because of what the Confederacy fought for,” he said. Farrar called it a daily reminder that while segregation is no longer legal, there is not equality in American society.

The statue was erected to honor Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War, with its placement spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of the Confederacy. It was unveiled in 1908.

Supervisor Spain asked the full board in July to explore options to remove the Confederate monument from the Courthouse Square or relocate it. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for any decision on its relocation.

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