Isle of Wight board votes to ask Windsor if it will take Confederate monument

Isle of Wight

ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) — The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors is asking the Town of Windsor if it would be willing to take possession of its 115-year-old Confederate monument — that is, if they ever decide to relocate it.

The unanimous vote by the board to make the request comes after a task force, charged in-part with finding possible alternative locations for the controversial monument, came to a consensus that the Town of Windsor Cemetery would be their top choice.

This is just the latest step in the county’s increasingly drawn-out debate on what to do with granite structure that stands prominently at the entrance to the county’s historic courthouse complex.

“If it is indeed the intent to memorialize those who may have died in war, then a cemetery is an appropriate location,” said Don Robertson, the assistant county administrator who summarized the task force’s recommendations Thursday evening.

The task force came up with a total of seven possible relocation sites. Robertson listed the others in the order in which they are preferred, which are:

  1. a piece of private property owned by task force member Volpe Boykin along Route 258 in the Walters area of the county
  2. the rear of the courthouse complex where the water tower is located
  3. the parking area at Fort Boykin
  4. the parking area at the bottom of Wharf Hill
  5. Fort Huger
  6. Shenandoah Valley Battlefield

If the Windsor Town Council decides it does not want the monument, city staff is also supposed to report back on the feasibility of relocating it to the second option.

The eight-member force — made up of five white members and three Black members — began meeting Oct. 7 after the majority of the Board of Supervisors decided they still wanted more input before making a decision.

Since the death of George Floyd in May — a Black man killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police — there has been a renewed push across the county for racial justice. In the South and Hampton Roads localities, that’s included a push to remove or relocate Confederate monuments.

Black Americans in particular have labeled monuments to the “Confederate dead” as symbols of oppression. Many those in support of keeping the monument where it is have argued they are truly meant to “honor the dead,” and have no racist intent.

A change in state law that allows localities to move their war monuments following a public hearing. Isle of Wight held theirs back in September where ultimately 150 people weighed in, dwarfing the input received in much larger Hampton Roads localities over Confederate monument relocation.

Isle of Wight is the only locality to take up the issue without voting to relocate.

“Before I would vote to remove a memorial of any sort, I am not going to vote to remove something before I would know where it would even go,” said Chairman Joel Acree, (Windsor District).

The task force was also asked by the board to come up with recommendations on how to best contextualize the monument where it currently sits. While no consensus was reached on a preferred option, the six ideas include:

  • erecting another monument of equal size and equal height to memorialize all who died in war
  • erecting a statue in recognition of the 36th United States Colored Infantry Regiment
  • making the current monument all-inclusive
  • erecting granite monuments in a semi-circle with each portion of granite providing historical information
  • erecting additional statues of other notable individuals of the same height and size as the current monument
  • adding simple signage around the current statue with QR codes with historical information so visitors could read on their own electronic devices

Following the vote, Valerie Butler, president of Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP, said that the board is continuing to just “kick the can down the road.”

“I think they just need to vote to remove it,” Butler said.

However task force member Boykin — who vehemently opposed the thought of relocation during the public hearing — thought the vote was a good step.

“The only way to save [the monuments] in perpetuity? Get it off county property,” Boykin said, which is ultimately the position the NAACP has had the entire process.

Robertson made clear that if somebody thought the task force idea was going to fail, they were wrong.

While he admits it started rather rough, in the end common ground was found. He called it a “model for the community.”

Task force member Ray Gibbs agreed.

“I made a new friend in Mr. Volpe,” Gibbs said smiling. “We had different opinions but we were able to sit down and talk and have open discussion. So things get accomplished when you have open discussion.” 

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