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Opinion

Take down the statue for a brighter county future

SoVaNow.com / July 09, 2020
(The following is an open letter to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, submitted to the News & Record for publication — Ed.)

By CAROL GRAVITT

Special to the News & Record


Dear Chairman Pannell, Vice-Chairman Ricketts and Supervisors:

I am a 68-year-old white female retired attorney and a resident of the County of Halifax from 1965-1972 and 1983 to the present. I ask that you help make Halifax County actively anti-racist, beginning with the modest, but highly symbolic removal of a confederate statue.

I request that the Board of Supervisors for the County of Halifax vote 1) to remove the statue of the confederate soldier from the Courthouse Square and 2) to appoint a committee of appropriate stakeholders to determine a new appropriate home for or alternate disposition of the statue.

As the Board knows, monuments glorifying and memorializing the Civil War have become a painful reminder to the citizens of the United States and Halifax County of a dark period in our history and continued discrimination and mistreatment of African Americans. For that reason alone, those monuments should be removed and placed in venues where their place in history can be explained and put in context. Our War Memorial carries the names of citizens of Halifax County who lost their lives in the Civil War; no additional honor is warranted to the confederacy or its cause.

The 1910 dedication of the first confederate statue in Halifax County was thwarted by the fact that the statue sent was that of a union soldier. By reports, that statue was either not erected or was immediately “knocked down.” That union soldier is now housed in the Halifax-South Boston Museum of Fine Arts and History. In 1911, a smaller statue of a confederate soldier was erected on a 20-foot shaft. That statue was blown down in a windstorm in 1916. The present statue of a confederate soldier on the courthouse square was purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected with the approval and support of the Board of Supervisors in 1937.

Although I have not seen transcripts of speeches given at the dedications of the Halifax County statues, the preserved dedications of other confederate statues during the same period contain quite offensive commentary. For example, the 1913 dedication of “Silent Sam,” a confederate soldier on the University of North Carolina campus contained comments by Julian Carr, a prominent industrialist and supporter of the Ku Klux Klan, who was invited to speak at the unveiling of the statue, where he credits confederate soldiers with saving the “purest strain” of the Anglo-Saxon race and brags about whipping a black woman who ran to the University for safety after being accused of disrespecting a white woman. http://hgreen.people.ua.edu/transcription-carr-speech.html. The base of our Halifax County statue and records of the dedications praise the soldiers who “fought and lost their lives in the cause of the confederacy.” The “cause of the confederacy” was the right to own and enslave other human beings. While we may care about ancestors who died in the war, perhaps even unwillingly called to arms by their state government, we cannot honor or pay homage to a “cause” so offensive or immoral.

Robert E. Lee opposed such monuments. In opposing a statue of Stonewall Jackson, Lee prophetically wrote in 1866, “[M]y conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.” Let us heed Lee’s advice.

I understand that there are folks who believe that these statues hold a place in history. Accordingly, I suggest that the Board appoint a committee of stakeholders who can discuss and recommend a proper home or disposition of the statue; whether it be in a museum, in a cemetery, at a war memorial or on a private plot of land, not maintained by public funds. The stakeholders should include representatives from the local Museum, the War Memorial, the Courthouse, the Historical Society, the United Daughters of the Confederacy who paid for the statue AND the African American community.

By your vote to remove the confederate statue, you will be sending a powerful message to the citizens you represent, and to prospective businesses and potential newcomers considering a move here: Halifax County is a strong, cohesive and peaceful community interested in and addressing the rights and concerns of all its citizens. The vote to remove the statue cannot wait and should be cast immediately. Finding a new home may take time, but it needs to be accomplished promptly and before our new courthouse is finished.

I ask to be heard on this issue at the August 3rd meeting of the Board of Supervisors to argue for this vote and to share additional County support calling for this action.

Thank you for listening and your support. Put Halifax County on the right side of history.

Sincerely yours,
Carol Gravitt, Halifax





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