After years of controversy and discussion, the Appomattox statue in the Prince and S. Washington Street was removed earlier this week by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but the base of the statue remains at the intersection.
New state legislation authorizing its removal by the city, and years of petitioning by the city to do just that, mean the statue is unlikely to return. What will happen next to the space where the statue was is unclear.
Some on social media suggested the statue should be replaced with a local civil rights leader, a method that has been done in other localities to celebrate black leadership in America and as a rebuke to the Confederacy’s inextricable ties to slavery. Suggested replacements included Samuel Tucker, a local civil rights leader who helped orchestrate one of the first sit-in strikes of the movement.
Staff photo by James Cullum
(Updated 10:40 a.m.) This morning (Tuesday) a construction crane at the intersection of Prince and Washington Streets took down the Appomattox statue honoring Confederate soldiers that has been the object of criticism and controversy for decades.
The statue had been the object of criticism from those who said it represented a celebration of the city’s legacy of racism and slavery. For years, a state law prohibited the moving or removal of monuments to veterans, which grouped in specifically monuments honoring the Confederacy, but in April Gov. Ralph Northam signed new legislation authorizing localities to remove statues honoring the Confederacy.
“Some said this day would never come,” City Councilman John Chapman, who also runs the Manumission Tour Company covering the city’s black history, said on Facebook. “The confederate statue Appomattox is starting to be taken down. We, our community made this happen. I got the receipts to show it.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said he had no idea what happens to the statue now, saying the United Daughters of Confederacy (UDC) — which owns the statue — were the ones who took it down rather than have the city remove it.
The move comes amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s death. The UDC building in Richmond was recently targeted in protests on Sunday (May 31) which also vandalized Confederate Statues across the former capital of the Confederacy.
“This has been a policy for several years, and there were folks in the community pursuing this for decades,” Wilson said. “For us, the effort is more than just a statue, it’s making sure that we tell the broader scope of our history. For so long, the reaction to this statue has been… that we’ve only told a narrow portion of our history.”
Wilson said the removal of the monument is part of a larger effort to tell the more inclusive history of the city, which includes the acquisition of the Freedom House and the city’s participation in the Equal Justice Initiative, which memorializes victims of lynchings.
William “Bill” Euille, who was the first African-American mayor in Alexandria, protested against the statue when he was a student at T.C. Williams high school in the 1960s and helped lead discussions in 2015 that led to the city officially calling for the statue’s removal.
“More than 50 years ago, four high schools came together with religious and community leaders and marched on the statue in protest demanding its removal, and then we went to City Hall to lobby City Council,” Euille said. “Unfortunately, we were not successful, however, the call has continued through all these many years. It’s about persistence and preservation, and in the midst of racial protests and riots across America, we can now rejoice in victory and inclusiveness. Many thanks to city leaders.”
Photo via Justin Wilson/Twitter
Once again, the Confederacy has been handed a defeat in Richmond that sends ripples up to Alexandria.
Alexandria has debated and put plans in place for the Appomattox statue at the intersection of Prince and S. Washington Streets for years, but state law stood in the way of actually making any progress toward removing it.
The Appomattox statue is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and commemorates the Alexandrians who left the Union-occupied city from that spot to join the Confederacy. This May 24 marks the 131st anniversary of the statue in Alexandria.
In 2016, the City Council unanimously approved not only recommending that the statue be moved the nearby grassy lot outside the Lyceum, but began advocating the state authorization to do so. Those petitions fell on deaf ears until last November when Democrats took control of the Virginia legislature and breathed new life into the city’s ambitions to eliminate Confederate memorials and iconography.
A driver nearly accomplished the city’s goals in December: crashing into the statue and fracturing its base, but the statue was subsequently repaired.
“It has been the policy of the city for several years now to pursue movement of the statue out of the middle of Washington Street,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We have had dialogue with the Daughters of the Confederacy over the past few months and with the enactment of this legislation, we would now work to realize city policy.”
Former Alexandria Mayor William “Bill” Euille got his start protesting against the statue while he was a student at T.C. Williams High School and applauded Northam’s decision.
“I applaud the governor’s action to allow local governments to make the proper decisions on the relocation and removal or placement of Confederate monuments, which is long overdue, but provides an opportunity to correct racial injustice while allowing for inclusiveness in telling a more complete story,” Euille said. “Alexandria has already studied this matter and a citizens panel has made recommendations to the City Council on how to move forward in fairness while protecting our history.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
The statue sits in the center of the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street, where it’s been occasionally struck by cars.
The city has been working to remove the statue for years — former Mayor Bill Euille got his start in Alexandria politics in the 1960s protesting the statue — but a Virginia law says memorials to war veterans could not be removed.
Legislation approved yesterday (Tuesday) in the Virginia Senate, with Democrats now firmly in control in Richmond, authorized localities to “remove, relocate, contextualize, cover or alter” monuments in public spaces.
If the legislation becomes law, Mayor Justin Wilson says the statue will be removed.
“In 2016, Council voted unanimously to remove the monument out of the middle of Washington Street,” said Wilson. “That’s the existing city policy. If the legislation passes and it’s signed by the governor, then we would work to execute that council policy.”
Wilson also said that the council will have to work with the Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the monument, on a new location, like a city museum.
Some Alexandrians had alternative destinations in mind.
I suggest we offer Alexandria’s statue to the Museum of the Bottom of the Potomac https://t.co/hAZLQUyPpE
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) February 11, 2020
The statue has a complicated history. It was built in 1889 to honor “the Seventeenth Virginia regiment who yielded their lives during the four years’ of civil war” according to the Alexandria Gazette’s reporting at the dedication. The location in the center of Prince Street marks the spot where several Alexandrians met to leave the Union-occupied city and join the Confederate army.
Rev. G. H. Norton, a chaplain who served in the Confederate camp, said at the time of the dedication that he hoped the statue would mark the end of the strife wrought by the war.
James Cullum contributed to this story. Staff photo by Jay Westcott.
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Someone crashed into the statue at the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street this weekend, Alexandria police confirmed to ALXnow.
“The statue was damaged by a vehicle at approximately 2 a.m. Saturday morning,” said APD spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine via email. “The Daughters of the Confederacy (owners) were notified and will make any necessary repairs.”
The base of the statue is cracked, with the statue itself now unevenly aligned, photos show. It is not the first time the statue has been damaged by a car — in 1988, a crash completely toppled the statue.
The statue was installed in 1889, during a time when streets throughout the South were renamed after Confederate leaders and statues were installed as a campaign of oppression against black residents. The statue was meant to symbolize a burial of hatred and conflicts from the Civil War, according to Alexandria Gazette articles from the time, but things didn’t really turn out that way.
Across several mayors and city councils, Alexandria has repeatedly expressed its desire to have the statue taken down, but a law passed by the state legislature in 1998 prohibits local governments from altering monuments to wars and veterans. Any movement of the statue would require the support of the statue’s owners, the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Mayor Justin Wilson said the weekend’s crash does not impact the state law governing the city’s inability to remove it.
“That being said, our staff is assessing the safety of the statue and conferring with the Daughters of the Confederacy as to next steps,” Wilson said.
Hat tip to Drew Hansen
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