MORE: NAACP rally at Loudoun courthouse—‘Tell the whole story’
Loudoun County's NAACP President Phillip Thompson says it’s time the county government and courthouse grounds in Leesburg reflect a more balanced view of Loudoun’s complicated history dealing with the Civil War, racism and slavery.
Thompson addressed roughly 100 attendees at a rally this morning on the courthouse lawn, where a statue memorializing Confederate soldiers welcomes passersby. In the last month, Thompson and scores of local residents have called to remove or relocate the monument, which is viewed as divisive by some and a nod to heritage and history by many others.
But relocating the statue wasn’t the focus of today’s rally – largely because state law prohibits removing monuments to soldiers from government property.
Instead, Thompson and local historians proposed constructing a memorial honoring slaves who were once sold on the courthouse grounds and Union soldiers who fought in the nation’s bloodiest war. The NAACP president recalled his displeasure, upon moving into Leesburg, to learn there was a statue for Confederates but none for slaves or Union loyalists.
“We’re seeking balance in the objection of history. The bottom line is, black history matters,” Thompson said to an applause. “Today, our program is to bring awareness to this issue."
Kevin Grigsby, a local historian, provided the crowd a summation of Loudoun's complex history during the Civil War.
"As one who has the blood of enslaved ancestors running through the veins, as well as that of a slave master, my perspective on the Civil War is pretty clear ... Loudoun was a Confederate territory, but Loudoun also had strong pockets of Union loyalists," Grigsby said. "Loudoun County, indeed, has one of the richest and most unique Civil War histories in the entire nation."
Therefore, the historian said, more diverse perspectives should be displayed to the people and visitors of Loudoun.
"It's like, who wants to read a book, but read every other chapter? Who wants to go to a movie and simply just watch the middle of the movie and get up and leave?" Grigsby said.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) was on hand for the rally, as was state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd), county Chairman Scott York (R-At Large), Sheriff Michael Chapman (R), Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd , Vice Mayor Kelly Burk and Council member Marty Martinez.
"We need to take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to presenting that fuller history, and also remember that we have a lot of work to do today," Herring said, mentioning a minority-achievement gap in education and apparent inequities in the justice system.
One-hundred yards down from the NAACP rally, at the footsteps of the monument, about 10 people gathered to display the controversial Confederate battle flag and honor the 108-year-old sculpture .
The Confederate flag and its symbolism has been a heated topic since last month's shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina church that left nine African-Americans dead. Shortly after the shooting, pictures surfaced of the gunman, who is white, posing with Confederate flag paraphernalia.
The men holding the flags in Leesburg said they were there individually to respect history, not as part of any single organization.
The Confederate monument, designed by well-known Civil War sculptor F.S. Sievers, was commissioned and refurbished by the local Daughters of Confederate Soldiers.
“Everybody should have their own peace of mind, they can say what they want,” said Becky Fleming, a western Loudoun resident and member of the Daughters of Confederate Soldiers. “They can erect anything they want to erect. But they have to go through the process – you have to raise the funds, you have to go through the committee process. The only thing we care about, is just leave our monument alone.”
She continued, “I take this almost like a racist and hatred and stirring things up that are totally unnecessary.”
Chairman York said he and county staff are meeting with Thompson next week to discuss the monument, among other issues. He said he is open and supportive to any proposals that honor slaves from Loudoun County and local residents who supported the Union.
York said the county would likely considering chipping in funding for a new memorial, similar to what the current board pledged for a forthcoming statue honoring Revolutionary War soldiers.
“They will have to come to us with what kind of design, and it will have to go through the approval process. And obviously they will have to get it funded in order for anything that is approved to be built,” York said.
Thompson, the NAACP president, said the Confederate statue isn’t his only concern.
“I’ve got some other issues with the county,” Thompson said. “They’ve got a website about the history of this county – all they mention is the statue. They don’t mention slavery or anything else. If you look at their webcasts, it always starts with that statue.”
Today's local rally came the same day as the Ku Klux Klan and Black Educators for Justice held opposing rallies at the statehouse in South Carolina. Lawmakers in the Palmetto State voted earlier this month to remove the long-debated Confederate flag from the governor's property.
-"The Confederate statue at Loudoun’s courthouse: Should it stay or go?" -- July 1
-"State law dictates Confederate statue must stay" -- June 29
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