Monument task force meets
Herb DeGroft, who is representing the Isle of Wight Citizens’ Association on the county’s eight-member monument task force, has suggested relocating Isle of Wight’s Confederate monument to downtown Smithfield to commemorate a Civil War skirmish fought along Main Street Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1864.
Moving it to the town of Windsor’s municipal cemetery or Fort Huger — a Civil War-era fort in Rushmere named for a Confederate general, which the county now operates as a public park — are among other options the task force is considering.
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has also expressed an interest in taking the monument and re-erecting it on a battlefield more than 200 miles away, near James Madison University.
That’s assuming the monument, which has stood in front of Isle of Wight’s government complex for 115 years, ends up going anywhere at all.
The task force, which Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors has appointed to evaluate potential sites for the statue’s relocation and possible verbiage for a sign contextualizing it if it stays, held its inaugural meeting Oct. 7 — with much of that two-hour meeting spent rehashing arguments for and against removal.
Four members — three Black and one white — are pushing for the statue to be removed, while another four — all white — said they’d prefer it to remain where it is.
“The Smithfield Times did a poll; close to 70% of the people in this county want the monument to stay,” said Volpe Boykin, who is representing the county’s Carrsville District on the task force.
He referred to a non-scientific poll on the paper’s website that online readers could choose to respond to.
“There are a lot of white Americans who outnumber the Black Americans in Isle of Wight County,” countered Derek Boone, who is representing the county’s Newport District. “We have to stop thinking that because there’s a majority it should stay. Yes, we are outnumbered, but we should not be out-voiced.”
Albert Burckard, who is representing the Isle of Wight County Historical Society on the task force, suggested splitting the task force into two groups — the four who are opposed to removal could work on a way to contextualize the statue in its current location while the four in favor of removal could list possible sites.
“What will we accomplish by doing that?” the Rev. Dr. Lilton Marks, who represents the Isle of Wight NAACP on the task force, asked.
“If you split the two groups who are already split, you’re not changing anything,” Boone agreed. “We can’t be stubborn here. We can’t be stuck on what we believe … and I’m not excluding me.”
Rather than debating sign verbiage, conversations regarding contextualization mainly focused on the idea of erecting additional monuments outside the county’s government complex to Black Civil War-era soldiers or leaders.
“What about Harriet Tubman?” suggested Windsor District representative Maggie Richards. “Why not make it a monument circle?”
Ivy Hill, a historic cemetery in Smithfield, is a non-option for relocation. Kathy Mountjoy, a spokeswoman for Ivy Hill, confirmed the cemetery has declined to take the monument. St. Luke’s Historic Church & Museum, located just outside Smithfield, hasn’t been formally approached by anyone from the county or any task force members about possibly taking the monument, but “would have a very hard time accepting anything like that,” said its executive director, Todd Ballance.
“We already have monuments to the Confederate veterans who are buried at Historic St. Luke’s Church & Museum, as well as a dedicated stained glass window in the church building,” Ballance said.
Ballance also expressed reservations regarding if and how the monument would fit in with the church’s mission.
“How would you contextualize the monument from when it was originally installed at the courthouse … why we would take it, how would we interpret it and is it consistent with what St. Luke’s is trying to do today? Those are things my board and I would have to discuss,” Ballance said.
Previously on Oct. 1, the Board of Supervisors held a meeting and appointed the eight voting members, plus Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, who will serve as a non-voting liaison to the county government.
Robertson said Isle of Wight has received a quote of roughly $9,200 from Hampton Roads Crane & Rigging Co. to dismantle the monument and move it up to a mile away from its present location. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, he said, has agreed to send trucks to haul the monument to its proposed location at no cost to the county, provided Isle of Wight foots the bill for taking the statue down.
The task force was originally planned to have 10 members, including Robertson: one from each of the county’s five voting districts, one from the NAACP, one from the county’s historical society, one from a citizens group and one from the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, however, which Newport District Supervisor William McCarty had specifically named in his Sept. 17 motion to create the task force, declined to participate, resulting in several competing suggestions from Board members on who should fill the ninth seat.
“I think we may have been remiss not having someone who is at least affiliated, associated with the Daughters of the Confederacy, which 105 years ago gifted that particular monument to the county,” said Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice.
Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson disagreed, suggesting instead that a high school student be appointed to represent the county’s youth. Board Chairman Joel Acree then said he’d already considered that option, but had talked to parents who “do not want their children injected in this.”
Acree then recommended that the matter be tabled, prompting County Attorney Bobby Jones to remind the Board that the reason they had planned to appoint members that evening was because they had set a date of Dec. 1 for the task force to make its recommendations — a deadline that likely wouldn’t be reached if appointments were delayed.
McCarty then motioned that the Board proceed with eight members instead of nine, despite the risk of the task force deadlocking 4-4. The Board approved McCarty’s motion unanimously.
The next planned meeting of the task force is Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. in the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad station on Great Springs Road in Smithfield.
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