The passage of bill intended to clarify a longstanding Virginia law authorizing—and protecting—war memorials has spurred calls from Loudoun Democrats and the Loudoun County NAACP for the governor to veto the measure.
The General Assembly action comes on the heels of a Danville County Circuit Court ruling in October in which the judge interpreted the law to prevent the removal of war memorials erected after 1998, the year in which a sentence was added to the state code to specifically prevent the removal or defacing of monuments for the “War Between the States.”
Last month, the House and Senate added another sentence stating the protections apply to all war memorial regardless of when they were erected. The bill easily passed the House Feb. 10, but spurred a battle on the Senate floor Monday—passing by a narrow 21-17 vote with Democrats opposing it.
Today, the chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee and the NAACP’s Loudoun Chapter issued statements railing against the bill.
LCDC Chairman Marty Martinez stated the “bill represents a massive, unwarranted overreach by the General Assembly that would deny local governments the right to decide what sorts of commemorative structures are appropriate.”
He also claimed the bill would dictate how localities can remember historical events such as the Civil War. “For example, this bill would remove the authority of the town of Leesburg to add a plaque or a monument to commemorate the former slaves who fought on the side of the North during the Civil War on the same site on the grounds of the Courthouse where now stands a monument to Confederate soldiers,” Martinez stated. “It would prevent Leesburg from presenting a balanced view of that conflict for all its citizens.”
The state law prohibits such a memorial to be affixed to a Civil War memorial. However, the statute would not prohibit the addition of a slave memorial on the courthouse grounds as was advocated during a community rally last year.
Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson opposes any law that prohibits the removal of war memorials.
“The Loudoun County NAACP’s concern is that the draft War Memorial legislation, which restricts the removal of all statues and war memorials, takes away a local community’s ability to move or remove these Confederate glorification memorials in perpetuity,” he wrote.
Thompson is among the advocates of moving the Confederate war memorial, which he describes as a “relic of a racist past,” from Loudoun’s courthouse square to the Ball’s Bluff battlefield.
“We will get our memorial to slaves and Blacks who fought for Freedom in place in time which will tell an accurate real story of what happened in Loudoun,” Thompson wrote. “But, to many, that Confederate Soldier statue represents a hateful past that, yes, should not be forgotten, but in whose real place should be located at a Confederate cemetery to overlook and honor those who fought honorably for their side or in a museum where real context can be provided as to what the Civil War was about and how terrible a struggle it was for all sides.”