There’s a monument you see outside courthouses and government buildings in many parts of the south. It’s called the “Common Confederate Soldier Statue.” There are some 50 copies of them in Virginia alone. One is in Floyd County, where people are grappling with the meaning of these monuments.
The Common Soldier Statue in Floyd stands at parade rest, hands holding a Musket, the words Bull Run and Manassas carved in granite at the base. Statues like it began dotting the landscape around the turn of the century, well after the war ended. Now, the killing of George Floyd and the events that followed has people interested in this history, like town resident Karen Baker.
“I was a trial lawyer and then a judge and I'm used to doing research. And the more research I did, I was just amazed at what this statue represents.
Baker has been researching and writing about the statue. she says they were put there with a purpose; a symbol for a kind of ‘back to the future’ for the south.
“At the end of the 19th century, when the white elite of the South was trying to regain political power, that’s where the statue comes in.”
And the Common Soldier Statues held their ground, sending a silent message to freed African Americans.
“They put these on the courthouse lawns because it was a signal, you know, ‘we're back.’ And, it was not an accident, right? The symbol was about who has access and who doesn't,” says Baker.
“The courthouse is supposed to be about equal access under the law. You know, that each person comes to the courthouse equal in their petition, but it really said, ‘it's us, we're white. And it belongs to us, not you.’ “
In Bakers’ research she found that the statue proliferation project was organized and paid for by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“The statute comes in because the United daughters of the Confederacy formed in 1894, we're a political organization committed to the rise of the old South.”
Today, on its website, The United Daughters of The Confederacy says, the Confederate Soldier statues should remain in place for their role in history. We reached out to the organization for further comment and did not get a reply. On the site is a call to "join us in denouncing hate groups,” and saying history should be preserved.
But in this newest movement for racial equality, the time for compromise appears to have passed for people like Baker.
She says, “There are two petitions being circulated. One to keep the statute and one, to get rid of it.”
Baker, stands strongly with the latter, testifying before governing bodies in Floyd and participating in vigils like the recent action called, “Floyd for Floyd.”
And clearly, this story reflects only one person’s opinion. Baker has a very personal take on what she thinks should happen to the Confederate Soldier Statue in Floyd and whose responsibility it is. “I think it's white people's issue more than Black people's issues. Because we're the ones who let it happen.”
Baker, who is white, believes it’s up to people who agree with her point of view to become more active in removing confederate monuments, like the one in Floyd, and their silent symbolism with them.
“We're the ones who did this. We're the ones who raised these statues and engaged in this propaganda. So, it should be us that says no more and not have the victims have to tap to come and beg. That's what I think."
The number of signatures on those petitions are said to be about even. But now, for the first time, communities in Virginia can make their own decisions regarding the monuments. Do they stay or do they go?
For decades it was illegal to take down a confederate statue in Virginia, but a new law that went into effect in July changes that, leaving these decisions to municipalities. The statues can be removed but they can not destroyed. In Floyd, the Board of Supervisors will ultimately make the decision.