Albemarle County elected officials on Thursday could be the first in the region to vote on removing, relocating, contextualizing or covering a statue honoring the Confederacy under a new state law that allows localities to decide the fate of such monuments.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a virtual public hearing beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday to hear comments from community members regarding what should be done with the county’s Confederate soldier statue and nearby cannons and stacked cannonballs.
It’s unclear if a vote to remove the statue will occur, but some board members have expressed issues with the statue being in front of the county’s Circuit Courthouse.
In email replies to constituents obtained by The Daily Progress, and during comments at meetings, at least three board members have expressed that they do not think the statue should be in its current location.
Supervisor Liz Palmer, in response to a person in favor of keeping and contextualizing the statute, said in an email that she has learned a lot of history in the last few years, and that “we have moved beyond contextualizing the statues in place.”
“They are lightning rods diverting our attention from dealing with the fundamentals of local government,” she said. “Not to say that the conversations about race are not extremely important for society and our community but truthfully, I do not want to spend taxpayer dollars to defend the statues. I feel especially concerned about defending the county’s Confederate soldier appearing to guard the front door of our courthouse. Not a good sign of a fair and impartial judicial system.”
The statue is a bronze, life-size Confederate soldier in uniform, which was erected in 1909 and paid for by the county, the city and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It sits in front of the courthouse on Albemarle property in Charlottesville’s Court Square that was never annexed by the city, facing south toward East Jefferson Street.
While the Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is near the courthouse, that statue and park is in the city of Charlottesville and not controlled by the county or the Board of Supervisors.
In a June email to a constituent, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she’s been through a learning journey, “filling in the gaps left by my 1960’s high school education.”
“I want a process to occur, focused on county residents, but I support removal of the statue and cannon from the court square,” Mallek said. “There are so many issues with the justice system which may be harder to solve than the removal.”
In another email, she said there should have been time taken in her high school American history class to learn about the lynching of John Henry James in Albemarle County and Jim Crow.
“Because of a privileged race, I was not seeing the truth before my eyes,” Mallek said in the email.
“The courthouse is one very special place which must absolutely be open and equal for all,” she said in another email.
At the July 1 board meeting, Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said the discussion is long overdue.
“I don’t think a war memorial or statues such as this should be in front of a courthouse,” she said. “A courthouse represents justice for all; I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.”
According to the new law, after holding a public hearing, if the board votes to move or alter the statue, it must offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield, and must wait 30 days before removal.
The board has “sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial.”
If the county follows a possible timeline that was presented in June, the earliest the statue could be taken down is September.
Information on how to sign up to speak during the public hearing or submit written public comments is available at publicinput.com/public-hearing.