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MORE: The Confederate statue at Loudoun’s courthouse: Should it stay or go?

The Confederate statue in the center of Leesburg, the county seat of Loudoun. Times-Mirror Photo/Trevor Baratko
Scott York, the Loudoun County chairman of 15 years, says leave it be.

The Democrat hoping to replace him says take it down or locate it elsewhere. So too does the president of the local NAACP.

Public opinion may be on the chairman's side, but that's unlikely to quell the years-running dialogue on whether the monument honoring Confederate Civil War soldiers is appropriate standing in the center of Leesburg, the seat of the fastest-growing county in the South.

What's more, it apparently matters little what anyone thinks.

The statue is here to stay, statute dictates. Virginia code declares, “ … it shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any [memorials or monuments for war veterans] so erected, or to prevent its citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same. For purposes of this section, 'disturb or interfere with' includes removal of, damaging or defacing monuments or memorials … ”

Whether the monument remains for another day, another decade or another century, questions about its symbolism and significance are sure to persist.

The outcry over Confederate flags and statues comes amid a national dialogue about race, stemming from the June 17 shooting in South Carolina that left nine African-Americans dead in at the hands of a white gunman who opened fire in a church. The shooter has said he wanted to start a race war.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has called for the removal of the Confederate flag that has long flown at the capitol, stirring outrage all the while.

The Leesburg statue features a roughly 10-foot-tall, mounted Confederate soldier holding a gun. It was erected in 1908 -- some say in memorial of Jefferson Davis and the “Lost Cause” -- and has remained standing for the past 107 years. According to Loudoun.gov, the monument “serves as a memorial to the many Rebel soldiers who died fighting for the cause in which they believed.”

“Loudoun County has a great deal of Civil War history,” said Chairman York, who is currently in office as a Republican but seeking re-election as an independent. “Like the other statues on the courthouse grounds, I feel it memorializes the soldiers from Loudoun who fought in these wars. To me, this statue recognizes those from Loudoun who fought in the Civil War."

York continued, "As it is a part of Loudoun history, I have no issue with the statue staying on the courthouse grounds."

Dana Shoaf, the editor of Civil War Times, wants to see the Leesburg monument and others like it used as teaching tools. Shoaf said he doesn't view the statue as an inherently offensive object, contrasting that with what he says has become of the Confederate battle flag. That symbol has essentially been hijacked by “White Supremacists,” Shoaf said, and he doesn't want to see that happen to monuments.

“It's a very challenging time to be someone like myself, who looks at the Civil War from a historical perspective,” Shoaf said. “I know this sounds like hyperbole, but where does it stop? Mt. Vernon had slaves … Williamsburg is a great place to visit … Slavery, unfortunately, was an intrinsic part of this country's history. We have to learn from it.”
Times-Mirror Photo/Trevor Baratko

Opponents of the highly public memorial say a history tied to racism, slavery and lynchings belongs in a war museum or possibly a battle site, not government property in front of a courthouse, a stark symbol for justice and equality.

Phillip Thompson, the Loudoun NAACP president, said the statue was erected at a time when racism prevailed and segregation was a way of life in Loudoun.

Commissioned by daughters of Confederate soldiers, the monument was constructed by renowned sculptor F.S. Sievers early in his career in 1908.
In 1908, more than 60 African-Americans were lynched across the U.S., according to the Library of Congress.

“The message of the statue at the time was, ‘this is who we are,’” Thompson told the Times-Mirror. “Well, this is not who we are now.”

Indeed, Loudoun is recognized today as a fast-growing, high-tech D.C. suburb of 350,000 residents rather than a small, agrarian-driven ecosystem. Traditionally a white community, Loudoun's population is now nearly 40 percent minority.

Leesburg resident Jeanine Salifou, an African-American, said she doesn’t find the statue as blatantly offensive as the Confederate flag. Looking out on Leesburg's historic King Street, which the Confederate's gun takes aim at, Salifou agrees the flag should be taken down in South Carolina and elsewhere, but she said she has never given much thought to the Leesburg statue.

Tom Medaglia, who has lived in Leesburg for more than 20 years, said he believes the statue should remain in place, and he drew a contrast between the statue and the Confederate battle flag.

“The statue represents a historical event. I don't mind that,” Medaglia, who is white, said June 24, while his wife and their dogs were passing by the statue. “But the flag continuing to fly above a state building, or a government building – it's time for those to come down. But anybody that wants to fly one on their own home, that's up to them. That's a First Amendment right.”

Phyllis Randall, the Democratic candidate for chair, told the Times-Mirror “symbols of the Confederacy should never be placed on public lands.”

“My objection about the Confederate flag, Confederate statue and a Confederate History Month are not new,” Randall, an African-American, said. “It did not take the tragic death of nine souls to crystallize my understanding that Confederate history should yes, be taught, but never celebrated.”

Independent chairman candidate Tom Bellanca said the real question is what the statue represents – a question to which he wasn't sure the answer.

"We live in a unique community that is diverse in some ways and not diverse in others … I think [the statue] has become a symbol for organizations like the NAACP of that underlying issue of racism,” Bellanca said. “It's a divisive issue. We don't need to be divisive. If the statue is a barrier, then, yes, it probably should go. However, the statue means a lot to some people, and it's important to a lot of people not to have a tyrannical government."

State-level politicians have been questioned about Virginia's Confederate heritage, as well.

On June 23, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) initiated the process of removing the Confederate battle flag from specialty state license plates, but the next day said Confederate monuments do not need to taken down.

Attorney General Mark Herring (D), whose Leesburg residence is less than a mile from the statue, has not responded to the Times-Mirror's question of whether the statue should be removed.

For many, like state Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th) and Shoaf, the statue is source of community pride.

Shoaf said the monument is “extremely well-executed and relatively silent,” and Minchew remarked the sculpture honors those who gave their life for what they believed in.

“Slavery is and was one of the most wretched and cruelest inventions of mankind ...,” Minchew said. “We in Virginia must be honest in our cognizance of our Civil War history, warts and all.”

He continued, “But, the Confederate soldier on the grounds of our Old Loudoun Courthouse commemorates the honored Civil War dead from our county and not the cause for which they fought.”


***



Original story: June 25

The president of Loudoun’s NAACP is reviving the call to remove a Confederate soldier statue from downtown Leesburg, the seat of the fastest-growing county in the South, while county Chairman Scott York believes the monument should remain in place.

Phillip Thompson, the leader of the local NAACP, the nation’s oldest Civil Rights organization, said Wednesday night “the time has come” to remove the statue from historic Leesburg.

“The message of the statue at the time [it was raised] was, ‘this is who we are,’” Thompson told the Times-Mirror. “Well, this is not who we are now.”

Thompson's comments come amid a national dialogue about race, stemming from the June 17 shooting in South Carolina that left nine African-Americans dead in at the hands of a white gunman who opened fire in a church.

In Leesburg, the statue features a roughly 12-foot-tall, mounted Confederate soldier holding a gun. It was erected in 1908 and has remained standing for the past 107 years. According to Loudoun.gov, the monument “serves as a memorial to the many Rebel soldiers who died fighting for the cause in which they believed.”

“Loudoun County has a great deal of Civil War history,” said Chairman York, who is currently in office as a Republican but seeking re-election as an independent. “Like the other statues on the courthouse grounds, I feel it memorializes the soldiers from Loudoun who fought in these wars. To me, this statue recognizes those from Loudoun who fought in the Civil War."

York continued, "As it is a part of Loudoun history, I have no issue with the statue staying on the courthouse grounds."

The debate over whether the Confederate statue in Leesburg is appropriate has been ongoing for years – similar to the contention over the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of South Carolina’s capitol.

The difference now -- as seems to be the case in the Palmetto State -- may be the cloud of tragedy hovering over the dialogue. The killer in last week's shooting at the Charleston church said he hoped to start a race war.

On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) shocked many politicos in the state by calling for the flag to be removed, and the state legislature there has taken swift action to start the process of bringing it down. The governor in Alabama, meanwhile, has removed Confederate flags from his capitol's grounds.

All week, questions over flags, statues, history and symbolism have arisen. What's appropriate? What's offensive? What's heritage and of historical significance?

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Tuesday called for the state to stop producing Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates featuring the stars-and-bars logo. But McAuliffe followed up Wednesday by saying he doesn't believe all Confederate statues need to be removed.

Loudoun Democrat Phyllis Randall, the party's candidate for county chairman, told the Times-Mirror this morning she believes, like Thompson, the statue should be taken down. Randall has long held her view, she said, adding that she pushed for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in 2010 to halt Confederate History Month in Virginia.

“My objection about the Confederate flag, Confederate statue and a Confederate History Month are not new,” Randall, an African-American, told the Times-Mirror. “It did not take the tragic death of nine souls to crystallize my understanding that Confederate history should yes, be taught, but never celebrated. Symbols of the confederacy should never be placed on public lands or funded by tax payer dollars.”

Independent chairman candidate Tom Bellanca said he wasn't sure whether the statue should be displaced.

“What's important is, what's the real issue – I believe the issue is what the statue represents," Bellanca said. "We live in a unique community that is diverse in some ways and not diverse in others … I think [the statue] has become a symbol for organizations like the NAACP of that underlying issue of racism.”

Bellanca said he's interested in dealing with more substantive problems than whether the statue is removed. “It's a divisive issue," he said. "We don't need to be divisive. If the statue is a barrier, then, yes, it probably should go. However, the statue means a lot to some people, and it's important to a lot of people not to have a tyrannical government."

Republican candidate for chair Charles King gave a similar response, not directly saying whether the statue should stay or go.

"Debating the statue overlooks the problem," King said. "The better ways to address the problem of discrimination. There is strength in Loudoun's diversity."

Leesburg resident Jeanine Salifou, an African-American, said Wednesday night she doesn’t find the statue as blatantly offensive as the flag. Salifou said Wednesday she agrees the flag should be taken down in South Carolina and elsewhere, but she said she has never thought much about the Leesburg statue.

Tom Medaglia, who has lived in Leesburg for more than 20 years, said he believes the statue should remain in place, and he drew a contrast between the statue and the Confederate battle flag.

“The statue represents a historical event. I don't mind that,” Medaglia, who is white, said Wednesday night, while his wife and their dogs were walking by the statue. “But the flag continuing to fly above a state building, or a government building – it's time for those to come down. But anybody that wants to fly one on their own home, that's up to them. That's a First Amendment right.”

Monuments and historical Confederate markers have been under scrutiny all week. In Richmond Thursday morning, vandalism of a prominent Jefferson Davis statue appeared, donning the words, “Black Lives Matter.”

The conversation in Loudoun County has been relatively quiet given the prominent location of the statue. But that may well change this weekend. The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold a “gathering of Confederate heritage supporters” at the statue Sunday at noon.

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