Statues cause controversy

Confederate monuments are plentiful in Virginia. In fact, Virginia has more than any other state. The Hampton Roads holds several of Virginia’s 223 Confederate statues in cities like Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

At Virginia Wesleyan, statues and public sculpture are important to students in many ways. They range from the large adirondack chair outside of the Batten Student Center, to the statue of John Wesley outside of the Boyd Dining Center. These statues are a large part of the daily lives of students, and help them better understand and interact with the University as a whole.

In Virginia Beach, the city council recently decided to keep a Confederate statue standing. The Virginian-Pilot reported that “City Attorney Mark Stiles issued an opinion that the Confederate monument built more than a century ago outside of the former Princess Anne County Courthouse can’t be moved. He relied on a 1904 law that says war memorials in counties can’t be disturbed or interfered with.”

The student opinions on the statues in the Hampton Roads area seem split.

“I think they should stay. It’s still a part of our history. Why can’t there be heroes on both sides?” sophomore Cory Austin said. “Because of racism. Hitler is a hero to the Nazis, but there’s no statue of him.”

“Some of these views are outdated. It doesn’t have to mean they’re wrong. They’re just irrelevant to our society today and where it’s going,” junior Kyle Leeming added.

Sophomore Adonis Powell had an interesting insight on the monuments. “They are a part of history, and that’s why they should be placed in museums and cemeteries. I don’t think they should be out in public areas,” he said. “They put up statues, because they want to glorify things and people. Why would we want to glorify that? I don’t feel like public places are where they should stand.”

Other students cite the importance of understanding history, and even the atrocities of it, as reason for the monuments to stay standing.

“I say they should keep them up, because they’re a part of American history, and taking them down won’t change what happened,” sophomore Madigan Horne said.

Sophomore Austin Sax agreed. “I think they should stay up as a reminder of the progress we have made since that time, and as a stark reminder to never move backwards,” he said.

Taylor Clark, another sophomore and resident of Rockbridge Virginia, where many of Virginia’s controversial statues are located, said, “I don’t like the Confederate statues, but I don’t think they should destroy them. They are monuments of our history. They should be put in a museum, or somewhere that deals specifically with items like that.”

Other students take a more laissez-faire approach. Wynter Benda, a Norfolk deputy city manager, said the work needed to move the statue would cost $85,000 a day and take an estimated one to three days.

“It appears that we have the authority,” Mayor Kenny Alexander said. “We just want to make sure that we’re crystal clear. We want to move it one time – one and done.”

“What are they there for again?” added Senior Joe Couture, “Why would they spend $85,000 a day to move something that no one should even worry about in the first place?”

Some students were just looking for the controversy to be over.

“We need to move on, whatever the quickest way for us all to get over this divide is how we should do it. There are much more important issues for us to be talking about,” senior Matt Baldwin added.

Tyler Conn agreed. “Whatever the community decides needs to be done with the statue, needs to be done as quickly as possible. If the community does not want the statue and finds it oppressive, the statue should be moved. Simple as that,” Conn said.

Though the statues are controversial in and of themselves, the placement of confederate monuments has also caused tension. According to an August 18 article by the Virginian- Pilot.

Virginia Wesleyan University Professor Stephen Mansfield told the Virginian-Pilot that Virginia Beach’s monument is located on a site that was occasionally used for slave auctions. 

An 1851 map of the Norfolk shows a slave jail, infirmary, and auction blocks, all formerly located within a block or two of the  main street location, according to researchers with Norfolk Public Library’s Sargeant Memorial Collection.

Portsmouth’s Confederate monument located in Olde Towne was formerly a site where slaves were punished on a whipping post, according to Norfolk State University History Professor Cassandra Newby-Alexander.

Josh Davis