Albemarle County’s Confederate soldier statue will be removed next month.
On Thursday, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously during a virtual meeting to remove the bronze statue of the life-size Confederate soldier in uniform, a cannon and three cannon balls from the Albemarle County Courthouse property.
The statue was erected in 1909 and paid for by the county, the city of Charlottesville and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It sits in front of the courthouse on Albemarle property that was never annexed by the city.
Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said that when the statue was put up, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors had taken immense pride in it.
“What they erected on our county property had its stand in history, and it’s time to change that history and leave that statue and his accessories to the history books,” he said. “It is with pride that I’m taking the action that I’ll be able to take to support removal of the statue and the accessories.”
According to state code, for 30 days, the board must now offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.
On September 6, or soon thereafter, the statute and other items will be removed from Court Square and safely stored, the county said in a statement, until the Board exercises its authority to determine the final disposition.
Gallaway said some people have tried to pass off the decision as politically correct, but he reflected on his experience unsuccessfully asking for local control of monuments in 2019 before a general assembly committee that quashed the bill.
“I remember in Delagate Toscano’s office after that, all the local folks who had come down, he had a meeting and they’re sitting there asking, ‘what now, what next,’ and the answer that David gave was ‘vote,’” he said. “And you know what, later in 2019, we voted and we had some changes.”
Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing local governments control over their Confederate monuments.
“That is something that I see as not politically correct, that is democracy in action and the way it’s supposed to work,” Gallaway said. “If you want change, you go to the ballot box, you vote, and you put the folks that are going to make the changes, and the majority speaks in that situation.”
Supervisor Donna Price said for her, the decision to vote in favor of removal came down to a single issue.
“That is, this is the grounds of the courthouse. Our hallowed halls of justice. Every citizen should demand and expect that they will receive equal justice, equal protection under the law, she said. “And I believe that only symbols of law, justice and equality are appropriate at the courthouse.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said the statue should be relocated to a more appropriate venue, such as Chancellorsville or a military hospital for the Confederacy.
“I absolutely do not believe that these statues should be in front of a courthouse,” she said. “These were made to intimidate. As Americans, we don’t intimidate. You can’t intimidate us. Yet, someone put these up to intimidate some of our citizens. That cannot stand.”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said this statue should not be co-located with the courts, and she decided to view the property through a land-use perspective, finding that “there are too many competing uses on one small parcel of land.”
“I would encourage our community to consider the new court complex design through the lens of a shared and complex local history, and the need to have a functioning and safe, respectful court complex and grounds for our community,” she said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said for Black people who seek justice in Albemarle, “that statute says you will not be getting it here.”
“We want all of our citizens to know they are destined for equal justice, which is challenging enough on its own, without any symbols of oppression, or unfairness,” she said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said the statue has been “sucking up too much of our energy to do the things that we’re supposed to be doing as supervisors, and as local government.”
“For those who have told me that this is a grave marker, grave markers aren’t in front of courthouses, they just don’t need to be there,” she said.
During the public hearing, two dozen people spoke about the statue, and all but two supported its removal.
Pastor Brenda Brown-Grooms referred the board to the opinion piece in the New York Times by Caroline Randall Williams titled, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument.”
“It is more than offensive to me to have those statues on ground that my ancestors bled for,” she said. “I’ve already paid for this country, if I give another thing. My people and I have paid for this country, and it’s time for our history to reflect my story, native stories, and everybody else who’s been othered. Enough already.”
Leslie Middleton said the statue’s placement at the “entrance of the halls of justice is beyond the mere pouring of salt on wounds, it is unconscionable.”
“It is difficult, if not impossible for our community to envision what the county owned public space around the statue should be while the Johnny Reb statue remains in place,” she said. “With the design of renovations of the courthouse about to commence, this is a perfect time to start over. To start with a blank slate, not with a 29-foot marker that was designed and installed to intimidate, watching over everything.”
Frank Dukes asked the board to consider the impact on other people as it removes it.
“I please ask you not to let it go to a location where it can regenerate the same intimidation, as we know this is happening in other places around the country, with people putting them on private property with Confederate flags and so forth,” he said. “As you know, I’m just reminding you that you get to decide where it goes.”
Seth Ragosta, a family law and civil litigation attorney, said there is no space to debrief and process a loss in the courthouse and he and his clients step outside into the courtyard, where they question justice, the community and the systems that have been put in place
“When my clients stand looking up at that statue having lost, having dealt with the consequences of justice and wonder about that question, this statute does not tell them that there was integrity in our process that there was justice in our process or that there was impartiality, particularly my Black clients, and I have stood there with many, many Black clients and I have watched their eyes, raise to that statute,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”
During the afternoon Thursday, members of the Charlottesville Albemarle Bar Association voted in support of the removal of the statue at a special meeting of the association.
In the supported resolution, the association states that it believes that “the memorial’s presence on the courthouse grounds conflicts with the promise of equality under the law.”
Ahead of the meeting, association President Bryan Slaughter said in an email to members that three people had reached out to express concern that the statue is a political topic, and accordingly asserted that CABA should not take a position on the issue.
“After an extensive internal discussion, the board voted (unanimously with one abstention) in favor of CABA taking a stance on this important matter,” he said in the email. “Ultimately, the board considers the removal of the statue to be a question of justice, as opposed to a political issue, due to both the statue’s symbolism and its location on the courthouse grounds.”
Mark Beliles, one of the two speakers in favor of keeping the statue in its current place, said he did support modifications and additions.
“I believe in some ways there’s more balance and we can create something that really celebrates and or at least educates on the good and bad and ugly of our history,” he said. “ I really believe that we can create a more balanced perspective, a sense of representation for everyone. It would give a more complete diverse history of the county, but I think if we start removing some parts of that history, we can perhaps even replace it with one sided history of a different viewpoint.”