PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The root of the issue of this past weekend’s violence in Charlottesville comes down to a Confederate monument that city council has ordered to be taken down. There are hundreds of them across the country — including here in Hampton Roads. Should they be relocated or totally removed?
John Menard, owner of the Kajun Hot Dog stand, spends his days staring at the Confederate monument in downtown Norfolk.
“I see it every day,” said Menard. “These were put here a long time ago and it’s part of American history. Taking them down, you can’t erase history.”
It’s one way to look at it. Portsmouth City Councilman Mark Whitaker has another view.
“These monuments constitutionally are treason, socialist. They are racist. Spiritually, they are ungodly and morally, they are wrong,” Councilman Whitaker said.
Whitaker has been a vocal advocate for moving Portsmouth’s confederate monument to another location — like a cemetery.
“It’s already in history books. History cannot be deleted just because we move this monument to a private location.”
Whitaker says what’s happened in Charlottesville has him addressing council again. He sent 10 On Your Side a letter he sent to the mayor and council members saying in part, “Given the tragic events in Charlottesville and other issues across the country involving white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and other hate groups with a history and pattern of perpetrating violence on citizens, I am making the following request. At the next City Council Public Work Session, please add to the agenda a discussion item on adopting an ordinance limiting or prohibiting such hateful and violent groups from demonstrating in the City of Portsmouth.”
Virginia law already bars local governments from removing war monuments. However, a judge out of Danville recently ruled that the law protects only monuments raised since 1998. In March 2016, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that seeks to prevent local governments from moving Confederate and Civil War monuments, giving local leaders more power over war monuments and memorial in their cities.
Jonathan Leib, a professor of georgraphy and political science at Old Dominion University, tells 10 On Your Side, “There isn’t an easy answer about what do with these monuments and cities and states across the American south are wrestling with these issues right now.
“There are two reasons why these monuments were erected. One: As Confederate veterans were dying, there was a movement to try and honor the Confederate veterans. The second reason was in the late 1800s, early 1900s, was a time when whites were reasserting power in the south,” said Leib. “Another reason for these monuments was an attempt to glorify the Confederacy and demonstrate white power on the landscape.”
There are three Civil War memorials and several schools named after Confederate leaders in Norfolk. Lori Crouch, spokeswoman for the City of Norfolk, says at the last city council retreat, council members decided to leave them in place.
Councilwoman Andria McClellan posted the following statement about the issue on Facebook:
I have been contacted by numerous individuals asking about my stance on the City of Norfolk’s confederate monument and what, if any, plans the city council has to address this issue.
At this time, I do not have a solution, nor has the City Council had the opportunity to discuss this, although I hope we will do so soon. Also of note, I was not in elected office in 2015 when the City Council previously voted on this matter.
That said, let me offer that I believe the answer is not to remain with the status quo.
I do believe that we should not try to erase history.
I do believe it is important to understand our city’s place in history.
I do believe that we must provide context for monuments.
I do believe we need to recognize that confederate monuments are seen by many as oppressive and representative of our country’s past sins. I do not believe we should enshrine and revere a war that, in large part, was fought to enslave others.
This will be a deliberative process moving forward, and I hope you will lend your perspective and potential options.”