The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday considered whether to seek legislation that would allow the board to move the county’s Confederate statue.
The county’s statue, a bronze, life-size Confederate soldier in uniform, sits in front of the Albemarle Courthouse on county land that was never annexed by the city of Charlottesville, facing south toward East Jefferson Street. It was erected in 1909 and paid for by the county, the city and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
A state law that authorizes localities to build and permit monuments to veterans of any war or major conflict says that it “shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.”
After coming out of a closed session Wednesday, Supervisor Diantha McKeel asked to add to the meeting agenda a discussion around an addition to the county’s legislative packet of giving local authority for decisions to be made around statues and monuments.
The board originally had approved the county’s 2019 legislative priorities on Nov. 7 and had no discussion about any legislation involving statues. Supervisors are scheduled to discuss the priorities with legislators on Dec. 4.
A series of bills in the last General Assembly session regarding the removal or relocation of Confederate monuments did not make it out of their subcommittees.
Activist Matthew Christensen on Wednesday submitted a petition with more than 500 signatures to urge the Board of Supervisors to vote to remove the statue as soon as possible. He said the statue is overshadowing the entrance to the courthouse.
Charlottesville is currently facing a lawsuit over its intention to remove the city’s statues of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
“If the statue was in the Confederate cemetery, I wouldn’t be here, I’d be able to focus my time on a lot of other very important matters,” Christensen said “But it’s not, it’s at the courthouse. This is the place where you’re supposed to have equal justice under the law for all people.”
Christensen said he hopes the board will decide to make this a legislative priority.
“But Albemarle County residents also have a right to know where their elected officials stand on this critical issue,” he said.
Another speaker at Wednesday’s meeting, Ken Horne, said he supports the statue removal petition and called the statue a “looming, intimidating and threatening messenger of hate and a reminder of white supremacy.”
He also encouraged the board to make it a legislative priority.
“It’s critical that the General Assembly address this issue of ‘war memorials’ and grant localities like Albemarle and Charlottesville the power to make their own decisions about Confederate statues and monuments, and to do what is best for specific communities,” Horne said.
Matt Owens, who said his job involves recruiting and retaining employees at a business in the county, said he supports the board seeking local authority to move the statue.
“I’m here tonight because convincing people to move to the county is made more difficult when our symbols and our public spaces continue to honor the Confederacy and continue to honor the men who fought to preserve a system that enslaved humans,” he said.
Andrea Douglas, director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, said the statue does not make the same statement that the nearby Jackson statue makes.
“This is making a statement about the common man and it’s making a statement about the kinds of idealism and the kind of values associated across the board,” she said. “It’s doing something quite different than the larger statue is doing, and it’s talking about the values of place and community.”
At the board’s Nov. 7 meeting, Teresa Lam spoke in favor of keeping the county’s soldier statue in its current place. Her related petition has more than 500 signatures.
The board had not made a decision on adding the matter to its legislative wish list as of press time.