While Charlottesville officials continue to wrestle with the fates of two statues of Confederate leaders, an Albemarle County monument to Confederate soldiers that stands in the heart of Court Square has stayed out of the spotlight.
The monument, a bronze, life-size Confederate soldier in uniform, was erected in 1909 and paid for by the county, the city and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It sits in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse on Albemarle property, facing south toward East Jefferson Street.
In May 2016, Charlottesville’s City Council formed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces after a public call to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Lee Park. The commission met for nearly six months and recommended that council either move both the Lee statue and a statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in Jackson Park to McIntire Park or keep them in place and add context.
But because the commission was created by the city, it did not make recommendations regarding the county’s monument.
Margaret O’Bryant, librarian at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, served on the commission and said that even in the periodic waves of discussions about the Lee and Jackson statues, not much has been said about the statue in front of the courthouse.
“The statue is somewhat different in nature,” she said. “Some people would view it this way, that [the] statue is a monument to all of the soldiers who served here in the war on the Confederate side. It’s an example of monuments that are all over the country. Probably most, if not all, the counties in Virginia have a similar monument to those who served during the Civil War on the Confederate side. Likewise, in most of the Northern states, many localities have a similar monument to those who served during the Civil War on the Northern side.”
Statues like the county’s tend to cause less controversy, she said, because they represent the common soldier and locals who served during that conflict, not specific leaders or individuals. These statues also typically were erected through “something of a community endeavor,” O’Bryant said.
“Now everyone’s very much into an analysis of, ‘Well, what was the community like at the time this happened?’” she said. “It wasn’t a free and equal community, that’s certainly true. Are we currently going to demand that only things that are totally admirable by our standards are the only things that can remain? That’s an open question.”
According to county documents, the Board of Supervisors has not discussed the statue in recent years. In 1998, the county appropriated $12,000 from the courthouse maintenance account to clean the statue.
“The city is having some work done on their statues in June, and it would be economical for the county to have the statues cleaned at the same time,” a staff report from the time said.
Jared Loewenstein, chairman of the county’s Historic Preservation Committee, said the monument had not come up in the committee’s discussions.
“We have not discussed it and we really don’t intend to get involved in a lot of the current discussions about what’s going on with other statues in the city,” he said. “Nothing has been brought to our attention about it, and we don’t have any definitive statement on it.”
Supervisor Rick Randolph said he had not heard anything from his constituents about any of the statues for months.
“I received about 10 emails and calls last year when council first announced they might move Traveler and Lee’s statue (referring to the general and his horse) — more correspondence than I received from constituents on the then-[fiscal year] 2017 budget,” he said.
Besides giving recommendations on the Lee and Jackson statues, the Blue Ribbon Commission also was tasked with suggesting to the council ways to tell the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race relations.
One recommendation was to participate in the Memorial to Peace and Justice project organized by the Equal Justice Initiative. Communities where lynchings took place have been invited to accept a marker that recognizes someone who was killed in such a way there.
The proposed marker in Charlottesville would recognize John Henry James, an African-American man who was lynched in Albemarle in 1898 after being accused of assaulting a woman.
Frank Dukes, a county resident who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission, sent an email to the Board of Supervisors on May 17 urging the board to participate with the city in the project.
“This would be a beginning step in us telling a more complete history, a more honest history, and in declaring publicly that justice belongs only to a few no longer,” he said in the email.