Welcome to LoudounTimes.com
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Supervisors reject request to ask General Assembly for greater discretion over Confederate statue

Leesburg’s 109-year-old Confederate statue. Times-Mirror/Alexander Todd Erkiletian
History was confronted and old wounds reopened Wednesday night as the Loudoun Board of Supervisors and more than a dozen local residents grappled with what to do with the controversial 109-year-old Confederate statue in downtown Leesburg.

Tensions were high and emotions raw. Descendants of both slaves and Confederate soldiers called on supervisors to carry out their version of a balanced history on the courthouse lawn.

Loudoun County sheriff’s officers upped patrol and guarded the entrances of the board room and foyer of the county government building, while county staff stood outside handing out tickets to those attending the meeting after they said they had been instructed by the Fire Marshall to limit the number of attendees due to the board’s packed agenda.

Because state code prevents localities from removing war memorials on their own, Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) in August announced she planned to ask the General Assembly to give localities greater discretion over war monuments and memorials within their jurisdiction.

In order to ask the General Assembly, the board still needed to put the request on its legislative agenda by majority vote.

On Wednesday night, supervisors were not only considering the chairwoman’s request, but also a proposal brought forth by Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) to ask the Heritage Commission to recommend how the county could fully reflect events of historical significance on Leesburg’s courthouse grounds without removing the Confederate statue.

“Why do we not celebrate the early treatment of Native Americans? Why do we not celebrate the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II? Are these not important events in our country's history?” Randall said, reading from a piece she wrote in 2005. “We do not celebrate these events, because we correctly realize the overwhelming damage these historic events caused to people, yet for some reason we can’t admit that untold numbers of horrendous events took place while the Confederate flag waved.”

She said her remarks a decade ago still stood today and that although she respected history, there was a difference “between teaching history, knowing history and celebrating history on public property.”

But in a series three separate votes, the chairwoman’s attempts to not only ask the General Assembly for greater discretion over the monuments, but also to have the people of Loudoun County decide the fate of the statute by a referendum vote, and allow African Americans the ability to play a role in telling their own history, all failed.

Ahead the of the vote, supervisors were confronted by those in favor of keeping the statue on the courthouse grounds and those who said it needed to be moved to a more historical setting.

“I’m tired of hearing of slavery, that was 150 years ago, get over it folks, let’s go forward,” said Lewis Leigh, a Loudoun resident who said his family has lived in the area for more than 200 years. “We can’t change what happened a minute ago, but we can change the future.”

Leigh urged supervisors to keep Leesburg’s Confederate statue but also consider adding a monument to honor a Union soldier as well as African-Americans.

Brittany Rose, an African-American resident of Leesburg, said that although she too agreed with Leigh and was tired of hearing about the issue of slavery, it was an issue that has “shaped our world and our county.”

“To walk past a courthouse that celebrates people who fought for folks like me to be treated like property is a slap in the face everyday,” Rose said, adding that she thought the Confederate soldier in Leesburg should be moved to a more appropriate historical setting. “ … [The statue] sends the wrong message. It sends the wrong message to people who expect to be treated fairly here.”

Although some Republican board members admitted their decision to not support Randall’s request to give jurisdictions greater discretion over monuments contradicted their party’s limited government ideology, they feared the chairwoman’s proposal would mean tearing down or relocating the statue altogether.

“I am generally in favor of local authority. In fact, I am glad that all you folks from the Democratic party are coming over to local authority,” Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said. “… Having said that, I do not support taking down war memorials, don’t care what memorial it is.”

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said while he was generally in favor of giving localities more local control, he believed board members first needed to figure out exactly what they wanted to do with the statue before going to the General Assembly.

“Because I don’t want to say no to the question of local control, but I also am not ready to say yes, add this to our legislative agenda, I’m going to abstain,” Letourneau said, adding that he himself did not know what the board should do with the statue.

Others opposed to Randall’s attempt argued it would not pass the General Assembly even if the board included it in its legislative agenda. They also said members of the General Assembly were already planning on introducing similar legislation in Richmond, so the board did not need ask for legislation.

When Randall’s initial proposal failed on split 4-4-1 vote with herself and the board’s two other Democrats -- Koran Saines (D-Sterling) and Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) -- and Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) in support, she tried to instead ask the General Assembly to allow localities authority to put a referendum on whether to remove, relocate or alter veteran war monuments and memorials on county-owned property.

But that proposal was voted down on a party line vote, and her counterpart, Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), threatened to ask the General Assembly for referendum authority to allow Loudoun voters to decide on the board’s recent 62 percent pay raise -- a move he staunchly opposed -- if the chairwoman's second request prevailed.

Some called referendum votes in general “a mess,” while others said they feared outside groups would launch major campaigns around the issue to nationalize the referendum.

Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said she was worried about the “unintended consequences” giving the people more control of the Leesburg statute would create. She also urged supervisors to “take a breath” and support Supervisor Higgins’ motion.

Randall shot back, saying she was tired of waiting.

“I think when we say things like, ‘take a breath,’ it almost assumes there haven’t been people that have been dealing with this issue for years,” Randall said. “There have been people who have been dealing with this issue for years, I don't need to take a breath, I've been dealing with this issue for years.”

Upon introducing his proposal, Supervisor Higgins argued that the Heritage Commission was the qualified and appropriate body to decide how history should be balanced on the courthouse grounds.

The chairwoman disagreed.

She asked Higgins to include an amendment in his request to have the Heritage Commission work in conjunction with the Thomas Balch Library Black History Commission on a way forward.

She said, historically, only a few African-Americans had served on the Heritage Commission and that in order to tell a balanced history of the courthouse grounds, the Black History Commission and the Heritage Commission needed to work in concert with one another.

But Higgins declined to accept the amendment. He pointed out that some of the members of the Black History Commission were also on the Heritage Commission and that the Heritage Commission would reach out to those groups on their own already.

“The Heritage Commission over its entire existence has had three people of color on their commission. They have not told the full story of African-American history in Loudoun County,” Randall said. “ … We’re asking to give the Heritage Commission veto power over African-American history in Loudoun County, and it’s not right.”

Randall’s separate motion ultimately failed on a party-line vote, and Higgins’ request passed 7-2 with the chairwoman and Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling) opposed.

“I would have hoped that we could have passed the chair's earlier motion, but given my pessimism about the General Assembly and the risk that we will do nothing to put the current statue in context, I will be supporting Supervisor Higgins’ motion to attempt to do that, as better than nothing," Umstattd said.

Related coverage:

UPDATE: Chaos in Charlottesville: 1 dies during riots, 2 state troopers die in helicopter crash

In wake of Charlottesville, Loudoun Democrats host gathering next to Confederate statue in Leesburg

UPDATE: Organizers cancel rally in support of Confederate monument in Leesburg
Loudoun chairwoman to ask General Assembly for greater discretion over Confederate monuments
Republican supervisor calls on county to relocate Confederate statue in Leesburg
MORE: Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office releases surveillance footage of vandalism suspects

Fate of Loudoun County Confederate statue mired in code and confusion
We asked 28 local officials about Leesburg’s Confederate statue. Here’s what they had to say.
Herring’s opinion on Confederate monuments appears to mean Leesburg statue can’t be moved

Loudoun County agrees with Herring’s opinion on Confederate statues

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.


Also, lets not forget the Emancipation Proclamation, which some people like to applaud as this great noble document of freedom and dignity. Lincoln issued it in September of 1862, giving a deadline of January 1, 1863 before it would take effect.  He was giving the Confederate states an ultimatum. If any of them had dropped their rebellion and rejoined the Union prior to January 1st, they would have been welcomed to bring their slaves with them. Even after the Proclamation took effect an exception was made for West Virginia. They seceded from Virginia in 1863, and came back to the Union as a slave state.  Slavery was legal in both the Union and the Confederacy. They were BOTH wrong for it. Slave labor was used by federal contractors to build the dome on the U.S. Capitol building DURING the war.  If you are going to condone tearing down Confederate memorials because of slavery and racism, then you better buy A LOT of wrecking balls.  Using that logic, every statue erected prior to about 1920 or so will need to come down.

Add a Union soldier statue and an Emancipation memorial to the Courthouse lawn. I’m all for that. It will create a perfect visual narrative of our history, and what it cost in lives.  Tearing down these statues and memorials is just plain silly. Next thing you know they’re going to want to level the Korean and Vietnam memorials in DC because they represent “American Imperialism”.  This needs to stop.

Lawman, there was no need for those Confederate soldiers to fight to the death to protect slavery. It was already legal in the country they seceded from.  If all they wanted to do was protect slavery, they had a better chance to do that by staying in the Union. The U.S. Constitution protected slavery. Only a Constitutional Amendment would abolish it, and no amendment was going to get ratified when nearly half the states in the USA at the time were slave states.  Read some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and debate transcripts from when he was running for President. Slavery was under no threat from a President Lincoln.

Just so you know Lawman, slavery remained just as legal in the Union as it was in the Confederacy for the entire length of our civil war.  Ever wonder why Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to slaves in the North, or slaves in territory already occupied by the Union?  It’s because Lincoln didn’t have the authority to abolish it in United States territory. The U. S. Constitution protected slavery. That’s why it took a Constitutional Amendment to abolish it.

Before fighting broke out, Lincoln supported the Corwin Amendment. That amendment would have laid the permanent and irrevocable protection of slavery at the feet of every slave owning state. They seceded anyway. Our civil war was MUCH more complicated that “North good - South bad” or “South wanted to keep slavery - North wanted to abolish it”.  There were heroes and villains on both sides.  Do your own research. You might learn something.

Never said those Confederates didn’t know about slavery Lawman.  The vast majority just didn’t take part in it. They were all born into a country where slavery was the law of the land, and it was protected by that country’s Constitution. That country was the United States of America. The Confederacy didn’t suddenly create slavery and secede to protect it. Slavery had been the law of the land in the United States from the day it was founded.  The Confederates weren’t Nazis and the Nazis weren’t Confederates.  Judah Benjamin served as the Secretary of War, Attorney General, and Secretary of State of the CSA. He was a Jew. Charles Moise helped design the Confederate Battle Flag. He was a Confederate Congressman, and a Jew as well. Over ten thousand Jews served in the Confederate Army. The Nazis wouldn’t have liked the Confederates at all, and vice-versa.

Sounds like Sup. Higgins is hiding behind the Commonwealth.  Weak.

When the U.S. Army liberated the Concentration Camps in Europe, many Nazi soldiers and civilians claimed they did not know.  How could they not see trucks going in and no overcrowded camps.  How could they smell the death coming from the smokestacks and not ask what?  How could not hear the shots or see the freshly dug graves and not know.  The same for those poor confederate soldiers who many of you claim knew nothing of the institution they were fighting for; yeah right.  Keep your swamp land: they knew, approved and fought to the death to protect slavery.

Ultimately none of this will matter. If all monuments to anything Confederate are brought down on all public property, you will just see bigger, bolder, brighter ones get put up on private property, and all still in public view.  All of this drama will do nothing but stir up centuries old animosities that should have been put to rest long ago.

Also Laugh, even if every single Confederate soldier were a traitor, which I dispute, they were all collectively “pardoned” by the federal government at the cessation of hostilities.  Even if they were traitors all, the moment they were pardoned they were traitors no longer.

Jefferson Davis himself received a pardon from President Johnson, even though he spent two years in captivity demanding a trial. They knew not to put Davis on trial, because they knew he would prove the Constitutionality of slavery and secession. Slavery is a stain on all of American history, not just the Confederacy. Slavery was legal on both sides of that conflict for the entire war.

Actually Laugh, those Confederate Soldiers weren’t traitors at all.  They considered their state to be their country.  They looked at themselves as “American” the same way current German, French and British people look at themselves as “European”.  They looked at the United States as a loose confederation of independent sovereign states, along the same lines as today’s European Union.  The same European Union that Great Britain just recently seceded from, and without prompting a military invasion to keep them in it against their will.

Also, in regards to slavery and treason:  The Confederate States seceded from a country where slavery was already perfectly legal, and they tried to secede peacefully.  They only fired on Ft. Sumter after nearly FOUR MONTHS of peaceful requests for the Federal forces to leave.

Slavery existed for barely 4 years under the Confederacy’s flags, it existed and thrived for nearly 90 years under the flag of the United States.  Abraham Lincoln was perfectly fine with slavery continuing unabated, just so long as the tax and tariff revenue on the wealth being generated by that slavery kept being collected by Washington.  It was only when that wealth tried to walk away that a war suddenly became necessary.  Our civil war was fought over the same thing most all wars have been fought over, money and power.

No Confederate flag ever adorned a slave ship forcibly carrying slaves to North America from Africa.  Nearly half a million were brought shackled in the cargo holds of ships flying Old Glory though.  The Stars and Stripes has the blood of more slaves on it than any Confederate flag EVER will.

The statue at the Loudoun County Courthouse is dedicated to the Confederate soldiers who served from Loudoun County, not slavery or rapists, or Jim Crow laws for that matter.  The VAST majority of soldiers in the Confederate Army came from families that could barely afford shoes for their own feet, much less slaves.  They were just as good and decent and honorable as the Union soldiers they fought against.  They deserve their monuments.  If you want to knock down a statue to a slave rapist, go to Charlottesville or DC and take a swipe at Thomas Jefferson.

Then tell all the history, like how these noble southern men raped so many Black women that now almost every African American in the United States has nearly a quarter white blood in their veins and has to trace their male DNA to Europe.  Tell the story of the kid lynched in Loudoun County was lynched for scaring, not touching to hurting, but scaring a white girl.  Lets tell the real story, not this fiction about Leesburg being some sort of battlefield or the lie about the civil war was not about slavery.  Tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Actually, Lucas1025, there is one element here that you failed to acknowledge.  That the statue honors those who were traitors to their country, and that led to the death of hundreds of thousands.  And all to maintain their “culture” built on slavery.  This one is easy to judge. And it is not complicated at all.

Higgins proposal like Higgins himself will do nothing to help anyone.

Chairwoman Randall is correct that we do not celebrate the prior treatment of Native Americans or of Japanese interned during World War II, but we absolutely celebrate the men that carried those treatments out.

Statues and memorials to Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Generals Phillip Sheridan, Ulysses Grant, and George Custer are scattered across this country.

Roosevelt issued the executive order interning those Japanese. Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in U.S. history when he condemned over three dozen men to die for committing no other crime than being members of the Dakota tribe. Lincoln also was in favor of clearing the western territories of all natives in order to make them secure for the homes of “free white men” as he put it.  U.S. Grant favored aggressive policies against native peoples as President, and Phillip Sheridan actually coined the phrase “The only good Indian, is a dead Indian”. Custer’s actions against native peoples, and his fate as a result, should need no explanation.

We should be very careful about judging past historical figures by modern norms and standards. If we do that, we will likely find we don’t much like any of them.

Our country’s history, like every country’s history, is complicated.  Some of it is good, some of it is bad, some of it is downright ugly.  We shouldn’t be destroying the tangible reminders of it just to make some of us feel better about ourselves.

Post a comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments express only the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or any associated person or entity. Any user who believes a message is objectionable can contact us at ltmeditor@loudountimes.com.

More News

The Loudoun Times-Mirror

is an interactive, digital replica
of the printed newspaper.
Click here for all e-editions.