Charlottesville Clash Shines New Spotlight on Confederate Monuments

Aug 14, 2017

A post card view of the "Appomattox" monument in Alexandria
Credit Alexandria Library Local History Special Collections

The events in Charlottesville are prompting a renewed interest in Confederate statues and memorials across Virginia, as elected leaders across Virginia hear a new round of calls to remove them. 

The Confederate statue in Alexandria sits right in the middle of one of the busiest streets in the city, and people there have been trying to get rid of it for years. Last year, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to remove it. But there’s a problem. Council would need the General Assembly to pass a law to make that happen.  

Democratic Delegate Mark Levine says he wants this statue to stay. “I certainly do not see this as a celebration of the Confederacy or the preservation of slavery the Confederate soldiers fought for," Levine said. "I see it as a monument to a defeated cause, a monument to a defeated cause. It is called Appomattox for a reason.”

Appomattox was one of the final chapters of the Civil War, leading to the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the war. Levine agrees with those who want to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway. But he says this statue is different.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson says he’s been hearing from constituents who want the city to remove the statue even if that means violating state law. “I have residents who are contacting me in the last 48 hours who are suggesting all method of civil disobedience because they want to see the city react on this issue, and I’ve told them that we are a nation of laws and we need to respect the laws and work within that.”

This statue was erected in 1889, and in 1890 the General Assembly passed a specific law protecting it. Then in 1905, the General Assembly passed a law protecting all war memorials. The Lee statue in Charlottesville was erected after that though, so the courts are still trying to figure out if that 1905 law applies to the Confederate statue that’s caused so much controversy there.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association