With renewed calls to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces amid heightened attention on racial injustice, the monument in Leesburg is again a topic of debate. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) recently discussed the issue with the Times-Mirror.
The issue: Virginia has long prohibited any changes to Confederate monuments or war memorials … but that will soon change.
County leaders have long been torn over whether to keep or remove Leesburg’s Confederate statue. The statue, erected in 1908, rests in front of the Loudoun County Courthouse and can be seen at the corner of North King and East Market streets.
Virginia localities do not yet have the authority to make any decisions on removal because the commonwealth prohibits such actions. Virginia is home to more than 200 public memorials to the Confederacy, according to state officials.
Mark your calendar for July 1, when localities gain control.
Localities in Virginia will have the ability to remove, relocate or contextualize the monuments in their communities starting July 1.
This year's Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 1537, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-2nd) and Del. Delores McQuinn (D-70th), respectively, overturned the state’s prohibition on the removal of Confederate war memorials.
On April 11, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the measures into law after the new Democratic-led General Assembly passed the bills. Most new laws in the commonwealth go into effect July 1.
Tune in on July 7. Chairwoman Randall and the Board of Supervisors may send statue discussion to public hearing.
Randall told the Times-Mirror she will bring forward an informational item to the Board of Supervisors focused on all of the bills passed by the General Assembly that give localities more governance options.
Among those, Randall said there may be a motion to send the discussion of the Leesburg Confederate statue to a public hearing, which is required under the new law. The public hearing would be scheduled for September because the board is in its regularly scheduled recess in August.
The first public hearing scheduled after August is Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.
The future could rest on Loudoun’s new Democratic control.
Similar to the General Assembly, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors flipped to Democratic control in January. Based on a 2017 Q&A, three of the five returning supervisors — all Democrats — supported the idea of moving the statue. Republican supervisors Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) would not say definitively.
Democrats in Virginia have generally been seen to support the removal of symbols of and monuments to the Confederacy from public spaces.
Letourneau previously said it was premature for the county to consider the issue given the state prohibition. Were the county to be granted authority, Letourneau and Buffington said they would like more context added around the current statue.
What are Loudoun’s options?
Keep the statue in its place, remove it, relocate it or add more context around it. Those are the decisions that will come before the board after its August break.
Randall said if the board does choose to remove it and it's not claimed, the county could end up storing it.
Randall’s take on the process.
“It's really important to me that the process that is in place for the county plays out,” Randall said. “I do not want -- and I would be very upset -- to see the statute in any way defaced or harmed in any way, and I believe the process should play out.”
Looking ahead based on past votes.
In February, the board voiced its support of renaming an area of Sterling long known as Negro Hill to Nokes Hill.
As Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling) said, “This will help Loudoun out as we move from our dark past into a brighter future where we will heal the wounds of history as a united community.”
With this example, there's a strong case that the board will advance the process to remove the statue.
With nationwide interest in tackling institutional racism in Virginia -- as recent protests have shown -- it’s hard to imagine the Democratic-led board would be at odds with removal.