The statue of a Confederate soldier has stood outside the courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia, since 1908, and it is part of a growing debate about Confederate symbols on public land.
When Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson looks at the Confederate soldiers memorial in Loudoun County on the courthouse grounds, he sees something very different than Becky Fleming, the president of the Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“They were trying to send a message, at that point, in 1908 that this is white Virginia, and we are going to run it the way we are going to run it,” said Thompson.
“I think it represents American soldiers who gave their lives just like for any other battle,” Fleming said. “Was it all about slavery? I don't believe so.”
Inspired by monument battles in cities like New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia, the NAACP is seeking an updated legal opinion from the county about whether the statue could be moved. Thompson would like to see it relocated to the Ball's Bluff National Cemetery, a site where Confederate and Union soldiers were buried after a Civil War battle in 1861.
“That statute should be over at the cemetery, where the conference soldiers are buried at battle of Ball’s Bluff,” Thompson said. “It should not be sitting at headway of our county and seat of justice in our county, because that statue has nothing to do with justice.”
Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd made a legal inquiry on behalf of the NAACP. Despite her personal belief the statue should be moved, she said a 1998 Virginia state law bars the removal of memorials.
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Thompson questioned whether the law really applies retroactively to memorials built before 1998. Umstattd said she will be watching a case in Charlottesville closely, where those who want to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park have taken the case to court.
“If the courts decide that Charlottesville can move that statue, then I think this statue's position on the courthouse grounds can come in to question,” Umstattd said.
Fleming said the renewed debate dredges up hard feelings.
“Do I feel it should be moved? Absolutely not,” Fleming said. “There is just such a level of intolerance now for every little issue, and I just feel enough is enough.”
In 2015, the NAACP raised this statue issue and got permission and funding to add informational plaques or monuments on the courthouse lawn about the Underground Railroad's presence and slavery in Loudoun County. Those plaques have not yet been created.