Spirited debates in Portsmouth at protest to remove Confederate monument

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Spirited debates were heard among attendees of a protest outside Portsmouth’s Confederate monument on Thursday.

“This represents a broken history in our country,” said local activist and pastor Louie Gibbs, pointing to the Olde Towne memorial.

The protest took place hours after the city’s mayor called for the memorial to be moved from Court Street to the Cedar Grove Cemetery.

“This is a movement, not a removal. We very much still honor those that died,” Mayor John Rowe said during an afternoon press conference at the cemetery. He was joined by Sen. Louise Lucas and Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke.

Organizers of the rally, called “Remove the Stain,” say the monument — which has sat in the center of the city since the 1800’s — leaves a dark cloud that holds the city hostage from progress. They call it a “stain of oppression, slavery and hate” — and want it removed immediately.

Gallery: Portsmouth Confederate Monument Rally

“We don’t need to continue fighting the Civil War,” Rowe said. “If there is one person that is hurt by this memorial, then we need to address that.”

Rowe stated that the cemetery would be a “fitting” location seeing that nearly 400 confederate soldiers were buried there.

The mayor reiterated his wishes during another press conference held during the protest, organized by Gibbs and other activists.

Moments were occasionally tense as those hoping to keep the memorial tried to speak before the crowd, but weren’t able to approach the podium.

The crowd appeared split between those who attended to fight for the confederate’s removal, and those who came to applaud the mayor’s decision.

“We’re trying to preserve history and I don’t think it’s right to tear down monuments. We’re all Americans, we had 700,000 Americans fight in the Civil War,” said Mark Miller, who dressed in Civil War costumes along with a friend.

But Shanice Williams responded to those arguments by stating, “I think if they understand that not everyone’s southern history is the same as theirs, they would understand the type of trauma that comes with seeing these types of monuments.”

Williams said she was in favor of relocating the monument, not doing away with it. Gibbs agreed.

“I’d rather see it [at the cemetery] than destroyed,” Miller said.

Councilman calls on city council to revisit relocating Confederate monument

While debates among attendees were at times heated, the event remained peaceful with many people dedicated to hearing different views. At one point, members of the crowd held hands, uniting in prayer.

Police closed Court Street from King Street to Queen Street. High Street was also closed from Dinwiddie Street to Middle Street. The roads are now back open.

The protest ended around 9 p.m.

Mayor Rowe stated that he hopes to relocate the monument by the end of the year. The request has been brought to council before; previous cost estimates ranged around $117,000, Rowe said.

Rowe told 10 On Your Side that he has the majority of council’s support.

But in a tweet following the protest, Councilman Bill Moody stated that the “mayor left most of council and all of our citizens out of his shocking announcement that he wants to move our Confederate Memorial. Not Good.”

This protest comes in response to violent clashes in Charlottesville last weekend — when a man plowed into a crowd of anti-white supremacists protesters, killing a woman.

There has been a lot of reaction to the incident in Hampton Roads, including last night at a protest in Norfolk. That’s where at least one hundred people organized around the downtown Confederate monument.

People chanted, brought signs and photographs of Heather Heyer – the woman killed in Charlottesville. Some wrote “shame” on the monument with chalk.

Later in the night, protesters marched across downtown. The event was peaceful, although a few people argued that history should not be erased.

Norfolk’s mayor Kenny Alexander told 10 On Your Side he’d like to see the monument moved to a cemetery. Alexander has asked city council to look into the matter.

Stay with WAVY for continuing coverage of tonight’s planned rally.