“After the horrendous display of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy in Charlottesville, we, the citizens of the City of Norfolk, take a stand against white nationalism by removing one of its symbols, the Confederate monument,” the petition, which can be found here, starts.
“On top of a white, Vermont granite base stands a 15-foot figure of a Confederate soldier,” the petition continues. “The monument commemorates the last reunion of surviving Confederate soldiers and is found on Main Street in Downtown Norfolk.
“We, the Citizens of the City of Norfolk, want the Confederate monument removed from downtown Norfolk on Main Street. After it is removed, we suggest placing the Confederate monument in a museum where exhibits and conversations can occur in a thoughtful, informed manner. We recommend replacing the Confederate monument with a new monument to serve as a celebration racial and cultural diversity.”
“In the 1850s, there was a slave market at that site,” said Norfolk State University professor Charles Ford. “Then, with Reconstruction, it became Market Square — the Sargeant Room has a beautiful postcard of the street vendors — both white and black there. Then, with white supremacy and the automobile, the vendors left and the monument went up. Did the people of 1899-1902 know that the space had been used for slave auctions forty-five years or so before? Probably.”
In 2015 the Norfolk City Council decided to keep the monument at their annual retreat. All three black council members agreed that removing the monument was unnecessary, according to reporting from Tim Eberly.
“You can’t erase history just because you don’t like it,” then Vice Mayor Angelia Williams Graves, who is black, said at the time. “It is what it is. To remove it would be a mistake.”
Of course, much has changed since then, including Councilwoman Graves position on the issue.
“In 2015, I was under the impression that because of federal law, we could not move the statue,” she said. “I understand that may not completely be the case now. I support the Mayor’s idea to move the monument to the cemetery. Let the dead all rest in peace together.”
Councilman Tommy Smigiel is one who carefully listens to the will of the citizens before making his decision on an issue.
“Believe it or not, I have had very few emails from citizens in Norfolk on the issue and it has been split,” he said. “Most of those who wish to keep it, tend to state that moving it doesn’t erase history.”
Cities have dealt with their monuments in different ways. Baltimore recently tore theirs down in the middle of the night. From The Baltimore Sun:
The action comes after Mayor Catherine Pugh pledged to remove four statues linked to the Confederacy from public spaces in the city and the Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a resolution to tear them down after a national conversation was renewed following a deadly act of terror during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday.
Protestors took the matter into their own hands in Durham. From The New York Times:
Chanting “No K.K.K., no fascist U.S.A.,” the protesters slung a rope around the Confederate soldier’s neck and pulled.
The crowd stepped back, out of the way, and the soldier came crashing to the ground in a heap of crumpled metal.
Whether or not the Norfolk monument comes down or if a large amount of signage is added to provide proper historical context, clearly, in my personal opinion, something must be done.
No matter what happens, and no matter what your personal beliefs are, I pray for peace in our hearts and peace in our streets.