Newport News Council appears poised to move Warwick Courthouse Confederate monument, but the state must approve

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A majority of City Council is in favor of beginning the process to relocate the Confederate monument outside Warwick Courthouse.

The seven-member council hasn’t taken an official vote, but indicated to City Manager Cynthia Rohlf on Tuesday that they would like a public hearing scheduled on the topic as soon as possible.

Across the state, local governments have been pressured to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces following the death of George Floyd. Advocates for their removal call classify them as symbols that “glorify the enslavement of African Americans” and “blatant symbols of divisiveness.”

Under a new state law, going into effect July 1, if council votes to move the monument, private organizations such as museums will have a 30-day window from the hearing to submit a plan to take ownership of the monument. After that time has passed, the city can choose to accept a proposal or move it to a place of their choosing.

However, for Newport News, there is another hurdle.

The monument is under a state easement agreement through the Department of Historic Resources. The agreement requires the city to obtain permission from the State Board of Historic Resources before making any changes to the site. Rohlf said a letter has already been sent off asking for just that.

While the city awaits a response, the Greater Hilton for Social Justice group is hoping to keep the pressure on. They are demanding the city remove the monument as “hastily as possible,” joining previous calls from the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference of the Virginia Unit.

The group gathered protest at the structure Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.

“This thing’s got to go,” said Cary Epes, who organized the protest. He said he sympathizes with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The monument, which was erected in 1909 out front of the 1884 Warwick Courthouse, was dedicated to the memory of the Warwick Beauregards, Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry. It cost just over $2,000.

“Honestly I didn’t know (the monument existed), I didn’t know till it made the papers … it’s off the beaten path,” Epes said.

However, he doesn’t believe that’s a reason to keep it where it currently sits.

“Just because I don’t see it every day, doesn’t mean it’s not there representing what it represents,” Epes said.

A group of city workers covered the monument with tarps earlier in the month after a man was severely injured in Portsmouth on when protesters pulled a monument off its stand.

By 5:30 p.m., at least 50 community members were at the monument, some carrying signs with sayings such as “Black lives matter” and “White silence = violence.”

Newport News City Council members Marcellus Harris and Dave Jenkins were both present and renewed their calls for the monument’s relocation.

Right now, the 1909 monument is covered with a tarp. City leaders covered the statue for safety concerns, until leaders can decide how to move forward.

“I simply believe the Confederate statue does not represent the values of our city and its citizens in 2020, and I do not believe we should preserve the ideals this statue was meant to symbolize,” Jenkins said. “… this monument is more a political statement than a true monument to military service, and it no longer represents our values as a city.”

However not all of council is on the same page.

In response, Councilwoman Pat Woodbury said removing the monument will “blur history.” She believes the monument should remain.

“Rather than eliminating past history, why not add to it with more present-day memorial statues and commemorative ceremonies. There has been so much progress in race relations in the last 50 years that should be celebrated … I am not in favor of re-writing or denying history but learning from it and adding to it with others for the cause of social progress,” Woodbury said.

Nearly 400 people have signed an online petition calling for the monument’s removal.

At this time the city has not identified a place where the monument could go.

“I don’t care as long as it’s off the public grounds,” Epes said. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for this.”

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