The people spoke and the Williamsburg City Council listened.
The council voted following an hours-long public hearing Tuesday for the removal of the Confederate memorial at Bicentennial Park — it’s been there for two decades.
The vote was unanimous.
More than 30 community members spoke, majority were for the removal of the memorial.
The monument was originally erected in 1908 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and is dedicated to the Williamsburg and James City County confederate soldiers and sailors. It was moved in 2000 to its current position at the park and in the past month has been vandalized with markings involving the Black Lives Matter movement.
The removal comes under conditions agreed between the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who originally contributed to the monument’s funding in 1908, which will allow the organization the opportunity to find a new home for the monument.
If the Daughters does not do so before Jan. 31, 2021 the city can then consider the monument “abandoned” and dispose of it.
The proposition also asks that the city contribute a certain amount of funds for the removal process, said City Manager Andrew Trivette.
Gerry Waring, a resident of Saluda, spoke during the public hearing as a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She said she travels to Williamsburg regularly to attend meetings and argued that the monument held historical value.
“I invite you to think about where our country is today, there are two sides to any argument,” Waring said. “We can all agree that our country’s history is good, some not so good, but it is nevertheless history. But we feel a responsibility to honor the soldiers and sailors.”
Some residents spoke out against that option, tellsing council members Williamsburg tax dollars should not contribute to a further memorialization of Confederate soldiers.
“I support the removal of the Bicentennial Park monument as well as the plan to give the statue back to the UDC at the city’s expense, which could very well allow this monument to be visibly resurrected and hard to remove,” said resident T. Hosten. “Williamsburg should not allow this monument…to exist, let alone pass back into the hands of those who created it.”
Mayor Doug Pons pointed out that regardless of what is done with the monument, removal from its current location would be a “significant” expense to the city.
Others took their opportunity to speak to present on Civil War history and discuss whether or not removing the statue would be historical revisionism.
Nick Belluzzo, a PhD candidate of archaeology at William & Mary, said the college’s Department of Anthropology and history submitted an analysis of the Williamsburg Confederate monument. Belluzo said removal of the monument is a form of revising history, which should be done because history is constantly changing based on new facts and information.
Belluzo also said Confederate monuments commemorate selected aspects of history that only highlight a particular perspective.
“They are designed to obscure the history of the [Civil] War and its causes while undermining newly emergent black political power,” he said.
While many speakers presented arguments for removing the monument, some also presented another opinion.
Resident Robert Glaser said his family has lived in Williamsburg for two centuries and his ancestors fought in the war and the monument honors those who died. The monument was a “crutch” for people to rewrite history because they’ve gotten “a raw deal.”
The few African Americans who spoke during the hearing expressed their own feelings of pain related to the history of Confederate monuments.
“Everytime I see a Confederate flag, I know I am not welcome,” said African American resident Antonia, who did not give her last name. “There are no black daughters of the Confederacy, they’re all white. And why do you think so? Because they’re not for me.”
The mayor said he realizes the monument’s symbolism means more to the African American community than it does for him as a white male.
New City Council member Caleb Rogers expressed his contempt for the monument as someone who has ancestors that fought for the Confederacy.
“The statue is not a point of pride for me and I don’t think it should be for our city,” Rogers said.
Discussions surrounding the removal of the monument came after the Virginia General Assembly gave localities the option to remove, relocate or contextualize monuments starting July 1.
Williamsburg is following the lead of other cities throughout the state that have also removed their Confederate monuments. Most notably, Richmond removed statues of Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury from Monument Avenue.
The City Council must still wait 30 days before it can officially offer the monument to other organizations, according to recent code changes.
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