The Confederate soldier statue outside the Franklin County courthouse in the small town of Rocky Mount will not be moved after the county’s board of supervisors unanimously voted to keep the monument in its current location during a monthly meeting Tuesday.
The motion was put forth by Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson and seconded by Tommy Cundiff, Union Hall District Supervisor.
“Now, if we take the statue down we’re disrespecting the past and we’re actually disrespecting the future because with what we have here, society is judged on the past and the future,” Cundiff said during the meeting. “So, we’ve got to have a past for how to judge our future [by].”
During the time for public comment, before the vote, a local Rocky Mount resident said not removing the statue would be a stumbling block for people of color and their allies, and what while some people see the statue as a reminder of the many lives lost in the Civil War, others see it as the lives that were lost to preserve the institution of slavery.
The board’s vote came two weeks after an election referendum, which was non-binding, asked county voters if they thought the courthouse Confederate statue should be relocated to an appropriate place somewhere else. The referendum received 29,060 votes – 19,928 or 69 percent voted against relocation while 9,132 or 31 percent voted for it, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The referendum was added to the ballots in July when the board voted 6-1 in favor after listening to complaints from locals about the prominently-positioned statue.
Most of the board’s discussions on the subject, however, did not involve whether or not the statute should be moved, but rather if a plaque or something similar contextualizing the monument as a memorial to fallen soldiers should be put up nearby.
Overall, four supervisors supported the idea of a plaque.
Blackwater District Supervisor Ronald Mitchell was the first to bring up the notion while sharing ideas from a committee on diversity and inclusion that he leads. Mitchell said the idea originally came from two members of the committee who are also a part of the Franklin County Black Lives Matter chapter.
“They suggested that maybe the county can do that so it puts in context who these men were and why they were fighting for what they were fighting for,” Mitchell said. “That will help with understanding each other, [one] of the biggest concerns that the members on my committee have.”
Tim Tatum, Blue Ridge district supervisor, agreed with Mitchell and the idea of providing background information for the statue.
“An overwhelming majority of people have spoken and support the results of the referendum that was taken by the county,” Tatum said. “Where I’m at on the whole issue is that even though [roughly] 70 percent said keep the statue, we can’t forget the 30 percent that want to move the statue.
“I’m not advocating that we try to forget about history or change history, but we need to remember it in its context and learn from it, and use this opportunity to bring our county closer together.”
Lorie Smith, Gills Creek district supervisor, and Cundiff were the other two members in support of the idea.
Ultimately, the Board decided to table any further discussions on contextualization until their next meeting in December to allow for members to think about the best ways to do it because, under Virginia law, any type of contextualizing to a memorial statue requires a public hearing to take place.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Franklin County Board of Supervisors” by Franklin County.