Ral­ly­ing for a sec­ond war mon­u­ment

NAACP wants sto­ries of slaves, Union sol­diers to be cel­e­brated

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH el­iz­a­beth.koh@wash­post.com

Slaves were once sold on the steps of the old Loudoun County court­house in down­town Lees­burg, which bore stocks and whip­ping posts. Although 150 years have passed, the court­house re­tains a sym­bol of its Civil War days: a statue of a Con­fed­er­ate soldier, ri­fle at the ready, fac­ing west.

As the na­tional de­bate over Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols on public prop­erty con­tin­ues to gain steam since the June 17 slay­ings at a his­toric African Amer­i­can church in Charleston, S.C., dozens of peo­ple gath­ered at the court­house Satur­day morn­ing call­ing for a change lo­cally: They want a me­mo­rial that would also honor the lives of slaves and Union sol­diers.

“Our history’s not be­ing told from the stand­point of what re­ally oc­curred,” said Phillip E. Thompson, pres­i­dent of the Loudoun NAACP, which or­ga­nized the rally. “We think we’re send­ing the wrong mes­sage about Loudoun County and who we re­ally are.”

Res­i­dents and of­fi­cials from across the county and the re­gion came to the “re­mem­brance rally,” in­clud­ing Lees­burg Mayor Kris­ten C. Um­stattd and Scott K. York, chair­man of the county’s Board of Su­per­vi­sors. It also drew a hand­ful of coun­ter­protesters, who dis­played Con­fed­er­ate flags on another side of the court­house dur­ing the event.

Thompson urged lo­cal of­fi­cials to ap­prove a me­mo­rial that would “bal­ance” the history rep­re­sented at the court­house. “Black history mat­ters,” he said, to ap­plause. Some waved signs that said “Black lives mat­ter” and “Honor the lives stolen here.”

Lo­cal his­to­rian Kevin Grigsby named African Amer­i­can res­i­dents who had helped the Union and whose sto­ries, he said, were not rep­re­sented. He said the ef­fort “is not about re­plac­ing some­thing or tak­ing some­thing away” but about show­ing mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives.

“You don’t grow un­less you some­times have dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions,” he said.

Sev­eral yards away, five men and women stood at at­ten­tion at the statue of the Con­fed­er­ate soldier, four of them car­ry­ing the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag.

“Just be­cause the South lost the war doesn’t mean it has to be erased,” said John Kitts, 23, who came from Manas­sas with his wife and friends to sup­port keep­ing the statue at the court­house.

A de­scen­dant of sol­diers who fought for the South, Kitts said the demon­stra­tion was about honor­ing their mem­o­ries. But he dis­tanced their group from those that have mis­used the flag sym­bol, such as the al­leged shooter in Charleston.

“We can’t stop peo­ple like Dy­lann Roof from fly­ing the Con­fed­er­ate flag and go­ing off the wall,” he said.

Vir­ginia law bars any lo­cal author­i­ties from mod­i­fy­ing or mov­ing a me­mo­rial, and the Loudoun NAACP has be­gun dis­cussing pos­si­ble state leg­is­la­tion to change the statute, Thompson said.

But the group plans to first fo­cus on a new­mon­u­ment for the court­house, and it plans to file an ap­pli­ca­tion to the Board of Su­per­vi­sors be­fore Novem­ber’s elec­tions. York, who has said that the Con­fed­er­ate statue should not be moved, said he did not ex­pect any­one on the board to ob­ject to a new me­mo­rial honor­ing other par­tic­i­pants in the Civil War.

The specifics of the me­mo­rial are still un­clear, but Thompson said that the NAACP would lobby for a sym­bol “as ex­ten­sive as we can get.”

“What­ever it is, we want more than this,” he said, ges­tur­ing to­ward a panel on the grounds that in­cludes only a brief men­tion of the Civil War and the county’s history of slav­ery.

Those at the rally praised the push for change a new me­mo­rial would bring, but some said it’s not nearly enough.

“It’s go­ing to take more than stat­ues for us to come to­gether as one,” said Suzette Rush of Ster­ling, adding that she thought that real change would take a gen­er­a­tion. “It’s go­ing to be knowl­edge and a change of hearts.”

PHOTOS BY NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST

At the old Loudoun Court­house in Lees­burg, dozens called for a me­mo­rial that would also honor the lives of slaves and Union sol­diers.

TomMcGuigan hoists Con­fed­er­ate flags in sup­port of the mon­u­ment. Another coun­ter­protester, John Kitts, said that “just be­cause the South lost the war doesn’t mean it has to be erased.”

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