Supervisors Seek Local Authority to Remove War Monuments

Loudoun supervisors have asked the General Assembly for the authority to disturb war veteran memorials on county-owned land, such as the Confederate soldier statue at the Leesburg courthouse,

reversing the board’s stance in the previous term.

In 2017, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) pushed unsuccessfully to ask the state for local authority to move war monuments. Supervisors voted that down 4-4-0-1, with current supervisors Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) in support and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) at that time abstained.

It was an early episode in the renewed, ongoing debate around Loudoun’s Confederate monument, begun after a violent clash in Charlottesville around a proposal to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The ensuing debate around Confederate memorials across the nation swept up the one in Leesburg, which was subsequently the site of protest and vandalism.

Under state law, local governments cannot move or disturb war memorials.

Rather than ask for that authority, with Loudoun leaders divided on how to reckon with the history of slavery and racial discrimination here, and with Loudouners passionately arguing on both sides, the Board of Supervisors commissioned a report from the county Heritage Commission. That would lead to recommendations for new monuments describing the history of civil rights in Loudoun, and the suggestion to name one of the courthouse buildings after pioneering Civil Rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, who argued a significant case of the Jim Crow era in the Leesburg courthouse.

And on Jan. 7, a newly Democratic-majority Loudoun Board of Supervisors for the first time voted to support bills giving localities the authority to move war monuments on the local government’s land.

“It’s our property, we and our constituents live with them daily, and we as local leaders should have the ability to make the decisions,” said Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling).

Supervisors Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed the action. Kershner said he worried if the law changes, “we would lose many of the historical monuments that we currently have in Loudoun County.”

“When we forget what happened in history, we’re bound to repeat it, and so my biggest concern with removing anything that we currently have is that we will forget … some of these struggles, some of the issues that went on with this country,” Kershner said.

But the majority of supervisors disagreed.

“I believe that we can remember history without honoring the racist, the tyrannists, the oppressors from our past,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian). “We don’t need to honor and glorify them in monuments that are highly offensive in this day and age in order to remember, learn from and not repeat history.”

Supervisor Sylvia Russell Glass (D-Broad Run) recalled her own family living through the process of desegregating schools.

“As an African-American woman, and being brought up here in this area, and understanding how monuments portray something that lets people know who’s in charge, and who’s not in charge … I think those monuments, what we’re talking about, displays to a certain group of people who were in charge, you should still be in charge,” Glass said.

And Randall said the argument that taking down Confederate statues erases history “is maybe the weakest argument that I can imagine.”

“Show me the statue that glorifies holding Japanese Americans in internment camps,” Randall said. “They do not exist. We remember history where history should be remembered—museums, classrooms. But a statue is a glorification of something, and the idea that you take it down thus you forget it—I do not think anyone is going to forget slavery or the Confederacy because statues come down.”

She also dismissed the arguments of adding context to history with the statue.

“I would ask you, if there was a statue of Anne Frank, would you add a statue of Nazi soldier next to her? Because that’s context,” Randall said. “Where does that stop? How does that look? At some point there has to be a right and a wrong.”

Saines also argued against the statue.

“If the Confederacy was trying to do what they did back then, they would be called traitors,” Saines said. “No other country that I can think of has monuments to their traitors that are trying to overthrow their government, but we do here in the United States.”

Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) saw the debate as a question of local authority—always a source of debate between localities and the state, in Virginia where localities only have those powers specifically given them by the General Assembly. He said Loudoun has had a “healthy dialogue” around the statue, and Loudoun should be able to decide what happens on its own land.

“I just cannot rationalize why Loudoun County should not get to decide what is on the Loudoun County courthouse grounds,” Letourneau said. “It’s not the state’s property, it’s the county’s property, and I don’t like the fact that the state has come in and taken that authority away from the county.”

Supervisors voted to direct their lobbyists to support a bill giving localities that authority 7-2, with Kershner and Buffington opposed.

One such bill, Hampton Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-2)’s Senate Bill 183, has been introduced and sent to the Committee on Local Government, of which local senators Barbara A. Favola (D-31) and John J. Bell (D-87) are members. The bill would allow localities to remove, relocate, or alter monuments or memorials for war veterans in the locality’s public spaces.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

11 thoughts on “Supervisors Seek Local Authority to Remove War Monuments

  • 2020-01-14 at 4:08 pm
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    The Town Supervisors locking horns with the State government is much like the Confederate States vs. the Federal Government. Perhaps the Supervisors have more in common with the confederate ideals than they would acknowledge.

  • 2020-01-14 at 4:09 pm
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    “Show me the statue that glorifies holding Japanese Americans in internment camps,” Randall said. “They do not exist. We remember history where history should be remembered—museums, classrooms. But a statue is a glorification of something, and the idea that you take it down thus you forget it—I do not think anyone is going to forget slavery or the Confederacy because statues come down.”

    Any monument to Franklin Delano Roosevelt is a statue that glorifies that action… because he is the one who signed that order, Ms. Randall.

    • 2020-01-14 at 5:00 pm
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      Ouch! Phyllis got ‘roasted’ as my 9 year-old would say. Excellent comment.

    • 2020-01-15 at 10:21 am
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      Yea sir. And let us not forget the 1924 Democratic National Convention.. you know the one where there were literally hundreds of delegates in attendance that were members of the KKK! Guess who else was there and in support of the KKK delegates? You guessed it! Franklin Roosevelt! Don’t forget about Roosevelt’s appointment of Hugo Black to the Supreme Court.. you know, the lifetime member of the KKK. Did everyone forget what he wrote in 1968?

      “President Roosevelt… told me there was no reason for my worrying about my having been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He said some of his best friends and supporters he had in the state of Georgia were among members of the organization. He never in any way, by word or attitude, indicated any doubt about my having been in the Klan nor did he indicate any criticism of me for having been a member of that organization.”

      -Hugo Black

      We will leave the fact that Franklin Roosevelt stood in the way of his own wife’s anti lynching bill for fear of alienating all of his Klan friends for another day..

  • 2020-01-14 at 6:29 pm
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    I don’t understand why so many people are foaming at the mouth about the courthouse statue. Maybe that’s just because I’m not originially from this country (like so many other Loudouners these days…).

    To me it makes as much sense as Europeans calling for the removal of all remaining statues of former kings, emperors and all their despotic minions that kept so many people in serfdom and had power of life and death over their subjects.

    It’s done and over with. Europeans moved on. It seems to me that America had moved on from slavery as well, and was walking rampant racism out the door at a steady pace. That is… Until just a few years ago when identity politics started going all kinds of crazy directions and people started finding solutions in search of problems.

    For perspective, the United States of America have been slavery free longer than legal slavery has existed, unlike European countries that suffered under feodalism or absolute monarchies for far longer than they’ve enjoyed living in (slavery free) republics.

    The statue is of a non descript soldier isn’t it? It’s not a statue to glorify Lee or Davis or any of the major figures of the confederacy.

    Why is it seen as a symbol of slavery? It’s a serious question. I don’t get it. Nowhere on the plaque does it refer to slavery.

    Isn’t it simply a memorial to the people of Loudoun from the civil war, just like all the other memorials on the courthouse lawn?

    If I could get an answer that goes beyond “you can’t understand because you’re not from here” that would be greatly appreciated.

    • 2020-01-19 at 1:04 pm
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      Perhaps if you could identify a single statue in any part of Europe that honors a nameless generic monarch you’d have a point? How about a single statue honoring an anonymous German Nazi?

      Perhaps if you were from here, you’d understand that slavery and forced servitude continued past the Emaciation Proclamation well into the 20th century? Then again, that’s kinda wishful thinking- the myth of the noble cause is alive and well here, in no small part because of Virginia’s ‘Campaign of Massive Resistance“.

      If you’re unfamiliar with Virginia’s Campaign of Massive Resistance you probably need to bone up on your local history before your opinion will be of value to the discussion.

      Don’t worry though, many of your neighbors some of whose families have lived in Loudoun for generations wouldn’t get it on Final Jeopardy either.

    • 2020-01-19 at 1:20 pm
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      And uh, in order to pull off the ‘slavery has been over longer than it existed here’ you kinda have to blow off the first couple of centuries of the history of the Americas while at the same pretending that Jim Crow didn’t happen.

      The first black woman to attend an elementary school with white kids in Alabama- she just turned 65.

      I’m from the class of 1988. My class was the first in Virginia to have public kindergarten available.

      If you can guess why it took so long to institute the radical concept of public kindergarten in Virginia you’re already on your way to a greater understanding of our complicated history than many of the From-heres.

      Lastly no, the statue at the courthouse isn’t dedicated to the People of Loudoun from the Civil War. The statue is specially decorated to the confederate soldier. You see, the ladies that put that thing up during the height of Jim Crow- they had no intention of honoring the many many citizens of Loudoun who worked against slavery before and during the war.

      • 2020-01-21 at 11:34 am
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        AFF, you are correct on the courthouse statue and I missed that part. The statue does refer to confederate soldiers.

        You are wrong however on your German parallel. There are plenty of memorials in Germany to the memory of their soldiers. There is in fact the tomb of an unknown WW2 german soldier in Berlin, buried alongside an unknown concentration camp victim).

        The memorials of course do not celebrate Nazism, but the fact remains the soldiers died fighting and imposing the new order in Europe under the nazi regime.
        The Germans didn’t try to sweep their 3 million dead soldiers under the carpet and pretend it did not happen.

        Why not do the same here and recognize all who suffered? I’m all for recognizing the victims of slavery and segregation.

        That doesn’t however justify pretending the people of Loudoun didn’t die in the civil war, even if they fought on the losing side.

        Oh, and congratulations on confirming that I don’t know enough to contribute to the discussion. It’s precisely as I said isn’t it? “I can’t understand because I’m not from here”. Your words would make bigoted intolerant nationalists around the country proud.

  • 2020-01-14 at 10:30 pm
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    Randall and her cronies are aligned with a Governor that wore black face and tried to apologized after his offensive behavior. The Governor wasn’t removed, Lt. Governor Fairfax wasn’t removed, Attorney General wasn’t removed. So the demorats always want it only in their ideological direction. BTW none of the BOS demorats ran on a platform to remove war memorials. HYPOCRITES!! aka Schiff, Pelosi, Schumer!!!

  • 2020-01-15 at 12:29 am
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    Can I just say something… controversial, yet… undeniable:

    Millions. MILLIONS of American citizens are descended from Confederate soldiers.

    There is so much to say on this, and I’m hoping one day to get some thoughts down on the topic, but suffice it to say that many of the people governing here in a southern State really just wish they were somewhere else.

    It’s so sad that so many decent and caring people put such little thought into what it means to trash the memory of soldiers… because they lost? Or because they had slaves? Recently historians have shown pretty clearly that Native Americans in the South were active participants in the slave trade. And they lost, too… should we start dismantling Native American memorials as well? Do they, and their descendants, not matter to you either?

    My Lord I hope not. If any of these folks wants to come down off of their high horses and actually act like they give a flip about the citizens of their county, and their ancestors, then they should do it, and stop with the tearing of clothes and rending of teeth over a statue.

    (And thank you, Jeff Mach, for making an excellent point…I’m pretty sure nobody is chomping at the bit to take down Henry VIII’s statue in London…)

  • 2020-01-20 at 2:13 pm
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    Massive Resistance… Jim Crow laws… Thank you for pointing out some of the important contributions democrats have made in Virginia AFF.

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