As discussions of racial injustice occur throughout the nation, some areas of the Peninsula are still home to Confederate memorials.
In Williamsburg, a memorial to Confederate soldiers stands tucked away in Bicentennial Park. The memorial was erected on the Palace Green in 1908 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and is dedicated to Williamsburg and James City County’s confederate soldiers and sailors.
It has moved to various locations in the area through the year, from outside the former location of the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse and then to where the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum now stands.
The monument was again moved in 2000 to its current location where it is surrounded by trees in the small park.
But with the current state of racial politics continuing to escalate in the nation, many are raising concerns about what these confederate memorials mean to a community.
“It can be very disturbing and destabilizing because it can push a false narrative,” said Lecia Brooks, chief workplace transformation officer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “As people become more aware of the history, it can create a lot of trauma and pain for people who were the target of the confederacy.”
Brooks said it’s important for communities to have discussions about the historic implications behind the monuments. Community leaders should speak to residents about what the monuments mean and most importantly, remove them from public spaces if possible.
“We take no issue with monuments or memorials to people located in grave sites or historic sites, but to display them in a public space to venerate people who fought for the enslavement of other human beings is just wrong,” she said. “Don’t make me, a descendant of enslaved people, part of your veneration of people who want to remain enslaved.”
However, Wilford Kale, local historian and author, feels the monument hasn’t caused any disruption in the community. He said the monument hasn’t garnered a lot of attention from residents partially because it is an obelisk and not an individual statue.
“If it hasn’t come up now or in the last four days…I think it’s not attracted attention because it’s irrelevant,” he said. “It has a place in history but it’s not part of today’s environment.”
Kale, who’s ancestor fought for the confederacy, said the purpose of the memorials are to remember those who fought for their homeland. He said not all soldiers were necessarily slave owners or even interacted with slaves, but that they wanted to defend themselves.
At the same time he recognizes he can’t ever fully understand the feelings of the black community.
“I understand the feelings, I’m empathetic,” he said. “But I don’t have all the feelings of the minorities who had ancestors enslaved. I can’t…say I know their feelings. I’m empathetic for what they believe in, but I’m concerned about wiping out history.”
There aren’t currently any plans to remove the monument, said Steve Roberts Jr., interim spokesman for the city of Williamsburg.
“The City Council has made no official decision as of yet,” Roberts wrote in an email. “With the election last month, the City Council is welcoming two new members and City business other than that of working to recover from the pandemic has been hampered the same as it has at localities across the nation.”
But some of those memorials aren’t necessarily structures.
In Kingsmill, William Barksdale Road is dedicated to a former slaveholder and confederate general, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Renee Dallman, spokeswoman for James City County, said since the road is privately owned, the county doesn’t determine its name.
Bruce Haring, executive director of the Kingsmill Homeowners Association, did not immediately respond for comment.
Across Hampton Roads, memorials and moments are dotted in both public and private areas.
Robin McCormick, spokeswoman for the city of Hampton, wrote in an email on March 11, the city does not own any Confederate monuments but thinks there are some located in cemeteries.
At Big Bethel Cemetery located at Langley Air Force Base, there are two monuments: Big Bethel UDC Monument erected in 1905 and UDC Monument erected in 1964 for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Big Bethel, according to Wikipedia.
In addition, the National Hampton Cemetery also has a memorial, separate from the rest of the cemetery, which honors the 272 Confederate soldiers buried there.
In Newport News, a Confederate statue sits at the Warwick County Courthouse.
The Confederate Soldier Monument was dedicated in 1909 and the city has no plans to remove the statue at this time.
“There has been no discussion by City Council nor are there currently any plans to discuss the future of the statue that I am aware of,” Kim Lee, spokeswoman for the city of Newport News, wrote in a text message on March 12.
WYDaily followed up with Lee to see if there was any update on the plans for the statue.
“Nothing has changed since you asked me that question back in March,” she wrote in a text on Tuesday.
A representative from Warwick County Historical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving Colonial Virginia, was not immediately available for comment.
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