Rallying for a second war monument
NAACP wants stories of slaves, Union soldiers to be celebrated
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.”
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.”