BERRYVILLE — Don't kill the soldier!
That was the overwhelming sentiment expressed during a public forum Thursday night at Clarke County High School to hear opinions on what, if anything, should happen to a controversial Confederate monument.
More than 100 people attended the forum, although they seemed to fill only about one-third of the high school's auditorium.
The landmark, titled "Appomattox," is in front of the Clarke County Courthouse on North Church Street in downtown Berryville. Erected in 1900, it honors approximately 100 fallen Civil War soldiers from the county whose names are inscribed on its base. Atop it is a statue of an unnamed, unarmed soldier.
Controversy surrounding the monument stems from the premise that the Civil War was fought over support by the South for continuing slavery. Some of the 30-plus speakers at the hearing disputed the notion.
Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Boyce, called the monument "a symbol of a great wrong." Still, it means different things to different people, she asserted.
But "the record is clear" as to why the monument was erected, said Paul Clark of Arlington, adding he's a descendant of some of the soldiers whose names are listed. "It's a tribute to the people of Clarke County."
"It's a monument in memory of the men who died," said Charles Snead of Boyce, and "who protected their homes and families" from Union troops.
"Their state was invaded," said Jesse Evans of Winchester, "and they were protecting it."
"They're all American veterans," just like those buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Clark emphasized.
David Williams of Berryville added that "their bravery (in fighting) deserves to be recognized."
Snead contended that the war largely wasn't fought over slavery, but rather the North wanting access to the South's grain supply and ports.
Long before the monument was installed, the United States pardoned Confederate soldiers, said county resident Gloryanne McGlynn.
Nobody at the hearing called for the monument to be destroyed. But rather than remaining outside a public building, some speakers said, the monument should be moved to another location, such as a cemetery where soldiers are buried.
"That's a memorial to fallen ancestors," said Ross Oldham of Paris Mountain, who originally suggested to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors that the monument be moved. Therefore, it would be more appropriate at a cemetery or battlefield, he said.
The lone African-American to speak during the forum, Kenneth Liggins, simply said he favors moving the monument to a cemetery.
Most speakers voiced support for keeping the monument where it is. They said it's an important reminder of unfortunate history that can't be changed. Some recommended adding signs interpreting its history as well as that of the Confederate era.
Carl Tomlin of Fredericksburg mentioned he has ancestors from Clarke County who fought in the war. He said the monument could be used as a tool to encourage conversation about history and its effects on the nation.
"Without items of history, it's hard to learn from the past," said Clay Brumback of White Post. Learning from history is how people learn to deal with unfortunate circumstances, he said.
"We cannot judge history by today's standards, said Boyce resident Carol Coffelt. Removing the monument, she said, would be "a denial of the past and a waste of money."
Coffelt mentioned that she was "raised in Third World countries where speaking out against the government could get you killed."
"History is history," county resident Lionel Chisholm said, noting he originally is from Canada. "By getting rid of it, you're accomplishing nothing."
"Nothing gives us the right to alter history," Williams said, "whether we like it or not."
Destroying or removing monuments, which has occurred in other places, is "depriving future generations of learning from mistakes of the past," said Berryville resident Andrew Surface.
"If we don't learn about our history, we're doomed to repeat it," said Richard Grubb, also of Berryville.
Mark Griffin, who recently made an unsuccessful bid for Berryville District seat on the Board of Supervisors, said that during discussions with voters while je was campaigning, only two mentioned the monument being a major concern to them. Both were in favor of keeping it outside the courthouse, he said.
Griffin said he favors keeping it there, too. However, "context (as to its historical significance) needs to be provided" to people viewing it, he said.
Made of granite, the monument and its statue is comprised of six separate parts, the largest of which weighs six tons, according to county architectural historian Maral Kalbian.
Trying to move the landmark could damage it, said Paul Little of White Post. Since it is more than a century old it might not be able to repaired enough to make it look like it does now, he reasoned.