BERRYVILLE — A Clarke County man is asking for a monument honoring Confederate veterans, one that has stood for more than a century, to be removed from the courthouse grounds.
Clarke County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Weiss on Tuesday said the request is a complicated one to consider in response to a controversial issue. He asked the public to give county officials enough time to thoroughly consider the pros and cons of removing the monument before a decision is made.
From 1861 to 1865, the Civil War was fought between northern states and southern ones which had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. Over the years, Confederate monuments have been removed periodically in response to anti-Confederate sentiments and the Confederacy's support of slavery. There have been renewed efforts in recent weeks as part of the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis.
In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a measure letting local governments decide the fate of Confederate monuments within their jurisdictions. Since then, at least one monument — the "Johnny Reb" statue in downtown Norfolk — has been removed.
Historical records show the monument in front of the Clarke County Courthouse on North Church Street was erected there in July 1900. An inscription reads that the monument was "erected to the memory of the sons of Clarke who gave their lives in defense of the rights of the states and of constitutional government. Fortune denied them success but they achieved imperishable fame." A statue of a soldier is atop the monument.
"It's time to remove the Confederate monument from the courthouse grounds and transition it to a more appropriate location of historical learning," Millwood District resident Ross Oldham told the supervisors Tuesday afternoon. He mentioned the Clarke County Historical Society and the Battle of Berryville grounds as possible places where it could be moved.
"The statue represents a long-lasting sentiment of control and oppression over African-Americans," said Oldham, who is white. "It's a statue that memorializes ... a battle for independence in an effort to maintain the institution of slavery. Its presence at the courthouse (a public building) defies all logic and is morally repugnant."
In Winchester, an online petition was started last week seeking to remove a Confederate statue on the Loudoun Street Mall. The statue is on property owned by Frederick County, but the site, which includes an old courthouse that houses a Civil War museum, has been deeded to the New Market-based Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation for 200 years.
Results of the 1860 Census showed that 47% — almost half — of Clarke County residents at that time were enslaved. Had the Confederacy won the war, who knows how long slavery would have continued, Oldham said.
"Those that fought for the Confederacy were traitors against the United States of America," he continued. "Can you think of any other nation, any other war, where the losers retained so much influence, were able to whitewash history so well, that they could erect a monument at the county courthouse glorifying those that fought and lost" a war to preserve slavery?
"Had we lost the American Revolution," he said, "would the British have allowed the traitorous colonists to erect memorials in front of their courthouses?"
Responding to Oldham's request, Weiss said "the idea of removing things is somewhat autocratic." He called it "Stalinistic," referring to Joseph Stalin, the Communist Party general secretary who led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s to 1953.
Still, "the board is sensitive to this issue," said Weiss, who represents the Buckmarsh District.
Supervisors are opposed to Confederate ideas and racist attitudes, he said. Recalling the unity rally held in Berryville on Saturday, he said that "it's important for this board to bring forth this community as one" unified group.
"I believe the board will discuss this (issue) in the near future," Weiss said.
"If the community will give us time," supervisors can render a fair decision on the monument's fate, he added.
Oldham spoke during a time allotted during regular monthly supervisors meetings for people to bring up issues not on the agenda for discussion. He was the only speaker.
Weiss said the supervisors usually don't respond directly to public comments. However, he indicated that he felt compelled to speak about the monument issue.