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EDITORIAL: Leadership requires confronting symbols of the past

The Confederate monument in Leesburg, on lawn of the county courthouse. Times-Mirror/Alexander Todd Erkiletian
There are times in elected life when leaders are asked to make difficult choices or take unpopular stands at a pivotal moment. This is one of those times.

Questions over what we value as a community now divide us in the wake of dissension over Confederate monuments. Such monuments have been removed in communities in the North, as well as the South, since the events in Charlottesville two weeks ago.

So it is reasonable to ask those those who represent us in public office to show their leadership and help guide us through a difficult decision.

Accordingly, this newspaper asked every member of the county Board of Supervisors, every member of our delegation to the Virginia General Assembly and every member of Leesburg Town Council to state their position on the monument to Confederate soldiers that stands on the public grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse.

Reaction to the survey was surprising. Some elected officials ran from our reporters. Some dodged the question. Others criticized us for asking. Asked where they stood on a moral issue, some elected officials defaulted to a political response.

The history of the county’s Confederate statue is “complicated” and “nuanced,” Del. Randy Minchew (R-10) argued, criticizing our survey of elected leaders as “incendiary.”

We respectfully disagree. The history, past and current, is neither complicated nor nuanced. What matters now is getting the current context right. Honest discourse is required. It is fair and reasonable to ask our elected officials where they stand. We look to them to guide us.

Several elected leaders deny responsibility or pass it to others who are doing the same. One is Suzanne Fox, the vice mayor of Leesburg. The statue stands a few yards off King Street on county grounds in the heart of historic downtown.

Fox acknowledged a “difficult issue with passionate advocates on both sides.” She said she did not not envy the policymakers who will ultimately have to make a decision on the fate of the Confederate statues in Loudoun and elsewhere in Virginia.”

“When I ran for office, I specifically criticized the Town Council for unnecessarily involving itself in divisive political issues that were not before the Council,” Fox wrote in an email to the Times-Mirror. “It would be hypocritical of me now to publicly put myself in the middle of a statue debate which will NEVER come before the town council.”

Similarly, Mayor Kelly Burk has avoided directly answering whether she believes the statue should remain in such a public setting, in front of the courthouse, itself a symbol of justice and equality.

Never take a stand on an issue that may cost you support. In the arena of politics, that’s a dance known as the Virginia two-step.

We find it a sad commentary on leadership when elected officials dance with denial, dodge difficult positions or suggest they have no responsibility in solving a troubling problem facing the community.

The history of the Confederate statue is well-known throughout the county. It has stood as a symbol outside the county courthouse since 1908, an icon that’s part of the downtown experience for First Fridays, concerts, flower shows, tourism and shopping.

Current events change the context. The Times-Mirror has published many stories about what the symbol means to different citizens. Some have written earnest and heartfelt letters from varying perspectives. Local historians have provided context. In the wake of Charlottesville, a statue that for many people represents an undeniable period of slavery in the county has become anew a symbol of bigotry and white supremacy in our time.

One reader wrote that “taking down Confederate monuments is not erasing history -- it's declaring that some parts of history belong in a museum, not on a pedestal.”

We are inclined to agree. For more than a century, we have looked backward in time at a symbol from a dark and divisive time in our history. It could be that we’ve been looking the wrong way. In this time, in a present defined by the relentless and divisive pace of current events, we should set our eyes forward in our diverse, dynamic changing county.

We call on our elected leaders to provide vision and intention, to help us define who we are now, not who we were then.

Comments


I personally don’t care about a candidates view on an issue that they cannot impact.  Whether it be the monuments or abortion, their opinions will not change anything.  What is their opinion on LCPS, economic development in the area, and transportation, those are opinions I care about.  The rest if mere noise.

As for the author’s comment “We are inclined to agree.”, I am inclined to believe that they have a bias opinion and is trying to create the news rather than report it.


Senator Dick Black in trying to equate people who want Monuments to white supremacy removed from our public psquare as the equivalent to the Islamic State has continued to demonstrate that he is nothing more than a closet race provocateur.  It is under the cape of people like him with their blind obedience to a bygone era of white supremacy and State sponsored racism that the Nazi’s and Klansmen who shamed our country have grown and become part of mainstream conservatism.  Luckily the Dick Black’s the Tom Dunn’s and their kind are starting to fade away and a new multicultural and enlightened Loudoun County and State of Virginia will be able to proclaim free at last free at last then God almighty that we are free from racist ideology of the past.


Thanks Dick Black,
The Virginia General Assembly wisely enacted Va. Code Section 15.2-1812 to protect war memorials from destruction for political reasons. It provides: “If such [war memorials] are erected, it shall be unlawful to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.”
Localities erected monuments to those who fought in the War Between the States several decades after the war, while millions of those veterans were still living. The Confederate soldier monument, at the Old Courthouse in Leesburg, was erected in 1908, roughly 43 years after the war ended. Most Confederate veterans would have been in their 60s by then, and many had befriended old adversaries.
In Northern Virginia, John Mosby, the famed “Gray Ghost,” had bedeviled the Union armies with hit-and-run cavalry tactics that earned him a prominent place in Civil War history. After the war, he befriended his old nemesis, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Their friendship began in 1866, when Grant issued him a handwritten safe-conduct pass. Later, Mosby became President Grant’s Republican campaign manager for Virginia, and he was fondly remembered in Grant’s memoirs. In such ways did our nation gradually bind the terrible wounds of our most tragic war.

Millions of good people, North and South, endured great suffering. In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he set forth his postwar goals: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
When the Courthouse Statue was erected, it was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The statue is a quiet, reflective image of the men who fought that war. One can imagine those who attended when it was erected in 1908. No doubt they included veterans, widows, and those for whom the statue was a solemn memorial to long-lost friends; to fathers, husbands or brothers. It was not a political statement any more than the Vietnam War Memorial is a political statement about that war.
The Virginia Code protects war memorials because they record our history. The purpose of the law prohibiting the removal of war memorials is to avoid the type of conflict that occurred in Charlottesville.

Troublemakers rip down historically significant statues for political reasons. The Islamic State employed cultural destruction as a weapon of terror in Iraq and Syria; we mustn’t follow suit in Virginia.
The chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors proposed a change to the Virginia Code making it easier to tear down war memorials. Attempts to remove Loudoun County’s Confederate Statue would harm our image and divide our community. The board should be calming racial tensions — not inflaming them.
As senator for the 13th District, I represent the Manassas National Battlefield and Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park. Visitors quietly walk those hallowed grounds with a sense of reverence that honors fallen heroes of both sides; political leaders should approach them with that same respect.
On the 106th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the Arlington Cemetery Confederate Monument was unveiled before a large crowd of Northerners and Southerners on June 4, 1914. President Woodrow Wilson addressed a large crowd of Union and Confederate veterans, who placed wreaths on the graves of their former foes, symbolizing reconciliation between North and South — the memorial’s central theme. Those who paid the price in blood formed bonds of brotherhood for the benefit of America. We do them a disservice when we reverse those magnanimous acts of love and mercy.
I have no doubt that statue removal would eventually invite removal of headstones from Confederate gravesites; there is always some new tool to perpetuate division and hatred. We should have the wisdom to respect our history and draw lessons from it.
I oppose weakening the Virginia statute protecting war memorials. If bills attacking war monuments are introduced in the Senate, I will vote against them.
• Richard H. Black, a member of the Senate of Virginia, is a former U.S. Marine pilot and Vietnam War veteran. He is a member of the Virginia War Memorial Commission.


Good editorial! I haven’t seen this much bobbing and weaving since several years ago when the LTM included an abortion question in their voters’ guide questionnaire to local candidates.

As with abortion, I have a lot more respect for a leader who can clearly articulate a firm stance, than one who comes out with a murky, “This is a controversial question and I have respect for multiple viewpoints.”

Sometimes you ask a question just to see how somebody thinks. And the monuments question is one where the reasoning is as illuminating as the answer.

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