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Mace & Crown | October 23, 2017

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Controversy In Norfolk: A spotlight on Confederate remnants may spark change

Controversy In Norfolk: A spotlight on Confederate remnants may spark change

Josh Castro | Contributing Writer

Virginia is home to more Confederate monuments and relics than any other state, with well over 200 public remnants of the Confederacy still standing around the old dominion. We have several parks, roads, towns and public institutions which bear the names of Confederate soldiers and leaders, permeating the daily lives of residents and becoming thrust once again into the forefront of public discussion. Closer to home, more visible monuments have come under fire, stirring passions and eliciting outrage from both sides of the debate. The Mace & Crown took the time to reach out to experts and activists to find out where Norfolk stands on this hot topic issue.

Guy Gane is the owner of Old Timey Casting, a staffing agency that relies on Gane’s historical prowess and a keen eye for accuracy. He can be found (more often than not) pouring over obscure museum textbooks or coordinating historical uniforms for the next big television show or movie. Having fallen in love with the Civil War at a young age, he now finds his obsession with relics of the past in danger of being misconstrued in our modern age of political correctness.

When it comes down to the brass tacks, Gane believes it has a lot to do with the lack of education on the civil war in public schools. “Education curriculums aren’t set up to give a comprehensive education to the student. There is much to cover in a short amount of time, and without field trips to places like Gettysburg or Shiloh, the sense of understanding is lost on minds that are focused on a million other things,” said Gane.

Like with many others, Gane follows the general consensus that the monuments belong on private property or historically connected public property, such as battlefields and museums. While there are parts of history that can certainly bear negative connotations, he says, there are also places where it belongs, with the ability to inform and educate future generations.

Raymond Brothers is a blue collar worker turned activist in the midst of political tensions following the recent presidential elections. In early August, he led a rally to promote peace and end racism around the Confederate statue in downtown Norfolk.

“A lot of people didn’t even know what that statue was in the middle of City Hall Avenue in Norfolk. All they knew was it was a round-about with a stone road. Then others who know what this statue is feels pain in their hearts that I will never feel. It’s not unseeable the misery in their face when I was at the Richmond March. Even at the Equality March in Norfolk, we put on I saw the misery and discomfort about that statue. The Confederate statue to me and others is a symbol of hate,” Brothers said.

Like Gane, Brothers sees the rightful place of statues in a place where they can educate future generations about both rights and wrongs. “My honest opinion on the statues is that they should be removed and put into museums,” he said. “That way we don’t infringe on other beliefs because people should be able to know what happened. Everyone should be able to walk down the street and not worry about a symbol or someone trying to stand up for it and not even know what they’re saying.” Brothers continued, “A museum would be sufficient enough for a monument. A lot of city leaders want to move them to cemeteries but other statues don’t even have dead civil war leaders on them.  Norfolk voted they will remove it so at least Norfolk is going in the right track.”

The monument in downtown Norfolk prominently features a 9-foot tall Confederate soldier atop a massive 50-foot Granite pedestal and was unveiled in May of 1907 to commemorate the last reunion of the surviving Confederate soldiers who served in or around Norfolk during the war. Constructed by local artist William Couper, the statue has seen its fair share of criticism. In 1924, less than two decades after it was erected, the changing tides of social progress began to call for its removal, although at the time the cries went unheard by local government officials. Again in 1954 residents called for it to be moved, and it was finally dismantled for a period of time in the mid-1960’s, only to be erected once again a few short years later.

“The monument in downtown Norfolk prominently features a 9-foot tall Confederate soldier atop a massive 50-foot Granite pedestal.” Photo by Shamon Jones

Public outcry to remove the statue in downtown Norfolk has not fallen on deaf ears, with Mayor Kenny Alexander vowing in an Aug. 16 interview with The Virginian-Pilot to have the monument moved to a new location, with one possibility being a privately owned cemetery. While areas like Norfolk and Portsmouth are having better luck in their ventures to purge the city of Confederate memorials, other places like Virginia Beach are facing drawbacks from ancient state laws that prohibit the removal of war-related memorials.

Virginia code 15.2-1812 is a law that states that localities cannot remove monuments that are dedicated to the memorial of a war or conflict once they have been erected. The law covers all armed conflicts, ranging from the Algonquin Native American wars of 1622, to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although different localities have contested its meaning, there has not been much luck on changing the rulings statewide.

After it is all said and done, perhaps 2017 will be the final nail in the coffin for the infamous Confederate monument, one that has seen years of anger and anguish at its mere existence. Of course, only time will tell if this will be its last hoorah, but the record speaks for itself, and the residents of downtown Norfolk have made their intentions for it quite clear.