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Vote ‘Yes’ to relocate Halifax’s Confederate statue / October 29, 2020
Halifax County voters are being asked this election if the Confederate soldier statue at the Courthouse square should be moved to a different venue — one that will better serve the cause of honoring Halifax County history while placing the statue’s meaning and our Confederate past into proper context. We wholeheartedly support this cause and urge readers to vote “Yes” on the ballot referendum.

At a time when the United States is experiencing a racial reckoning in the wake of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people, the question many county voters will ask is a simple one: Why should we invite such controversy here? Why not leave well enough alone? It’s an understandable sentiment. Few people like to engage uncomfortable questions or have hard conversations. Yet controversies also have a way of not waiting for an invitation before they knock on the door. After decades of acceptance, quiescence and blind-eye disregard, Halifax’s Confederate statue is very much something we as a community need to come to terms with.

It’s plain the degree to which the statue has brought positive attention and renown to Halifax County — it hasn’t. Otherwise, why would its defenders, and Halifax County as a whole, have allowed the monument to fall into such a disreputable state? Stained and weather-beaten, it’s not much to look at. Nor has it been so for some time.

Our Courthouse monument is an artifact of an early 20th Century cottage industry that churned out cheap statuary for sale to small communities in the South that had well-documented motives for honoring the heroes of the Lost Cause — surely in part to honor the war dead, but also to send a message of exactly who was in charge of the emerging South of the era. His name was Jim Crow. Monuments to honor the valiant common soldier of the Civil War could have been placed anywhere. It was no accident that “anywhere” in this case turned out to be the center of local government — our Courthouse, our local hall of justice, or what passed for such at the time.

The evils of Jim Crow need no elaboration here. To those who seek to explain away or gloss over the racial atrocities of American history, our only suggestion is a long, calming walk — where perhaps the realization will come that Confederate relics in the public square continue to carry a special sting, 155 years after the fall of the Confederacy. Preserving history should not mean turning a deaf ear to its implications. There are better ways, and better places, for those truly dedicated to honoring the Confederate war dead to carry forth their self-appointed mission. Likely as not, this cause will be more successful once the bond between statue and courthouse is broken and the taint is removed from both.

Our local museum is a very appropriate place to relocate the statue. The same would be true of Mulberry Hill, the private antebellum home near Staunton River Battlefield State Park in Clover where Union and Confederate forces clashed in this county’s lone battle of the Civil War. These or other sites would allow a fuller examination of Halifax County’s contributions to the war cause, including an accurate accounting of the wounded and dead, which far exceeds anything our undistinguished Courthouse monument can offer on its own.

The Courthouse square, too, could be so much more: back in the summer, this newspaper broached the idea of replacing our current generic monument with statues honoring actual citizens of Halifax of historical significance. Our idea was to honor Henrietta Lacks, savior of countless lives around the world with the HeLa self-replicating cell line used in medical research; and a second statue for Edward Carrington, whose canny fieldmanship at the Crossing of the Dan helped the American army of the Revolutionary War fight another day against the British crown. Others will have different ideas for how to replace our Confederate soldier; it may well be we decide that no monument is needed at all. One hopeful outcome with this referendum would be that we, together, can come up with an approach that all stakeholders in this debate — that is, all citizens of Halifax County — can appreciate and respect. That would be of great value unto itself.

There will always be a tension between preserving Confederate history and disassociating from the cause for which it was fought. Honoring one’s ancestors who served in America’s only homeland war does not make a person racist — there is always the capacity for grace, humanity and wisdom in reconciling the many meanings of the Civil War. But as always, the individual ability to achieve this balance cannot ensure the same will happen in the public space. No professions of good intent can overcome the fact that a local government tribute to the Lost Cause — that glossed-over version of history that seeks to erase the painful experience of so many of our fellow citizens, past and present — has no legitimate place in today’s society. We can do better. We can represent Halifax County as a welcoming and forward-looking place in the world. Vote “Yes” and let’s make our community a place of pride for all.

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