Roanoke’s downtown monument to Robert E. Lee appears to hitting the road as soon as a new Virginia law granting localities the right to move such items takes effect on July 1.
Only the Commonwealth could move such statues and monuments and statutes under current law but that was changed by the General Assembly under the new Democratic control and is part of a batch of new laws that take effect when the new fiscal year starts at the first of next month.
Reports Ralph Berrier Jr. in the Roanoke Times:
A majority of the Roanoke City Council wants to remove the Lee memorial from downtown Roanoke as soon as is legally possible, which will be sometime after July 1, when a new state law gives localities the right to take down monuments to the Confederate States of America.
“It’s way past time for the monument to go away,” Roanoke council member Bill Bestpitch said Friday.
The issue of Confederate monuments emerged again in the wake of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer kept a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. On Thursday, Northam ordered that the massive state-owned Lee monument be removed from Monument Avenue.
Roanoke’s council considered doing something about its own Lee memorial in the summer of 2017, following the alt-right rally in Charlottesville during which counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed after a man rammed a car into a crowd. In fact, a few weeks after that rally, the Lee memorial in Roanoke was spray-painted with the words, “Rest in power, Heather Heyer.”
Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, only the second African American leader in the city’s history, says he is in favor of moving the memorial.
“I am supportive of moving the statue,” Lea told Berrier. “I want to make sure we do it the right way and that there is an opportunity for public discourse.”
“Public discourse” may be a polite way of describing what may be in store. We’ve found proponents of monuments to lost causes like the Civil War tend to shout and threat more than just debate.
At least two other Roanoke council members have joined Lea and Bestpitch in supporting moving the memorial and changing the name of Lee Plaza.
This brings up questions on what to do with statues like the one remembering Confederacy dead in front of the Floyd County Courthouse in downtown Floyd.
I’ve found it interesting that the statue, part of a set of identical ones placed around the Old Dominion by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, does not list the name of a single Confederate soldier from Floyd County who may have died in that war.
The county was split in which side it supported by the war’s end and more residents were said to have supported and fought for the Union in the war. In the 1860 Presidential election, the Union and Democratic candidates were separated by just 16 votes in Floyd County, a margin far closer than the statewide totals.
Maybe we should have a statue for the Union? After all, they won the war.