PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – After years of debate, Portsmouth City Council voted unanimously to relocate its historic Confederate monument that made national headlines after a destructive protest turned tragic last month.
City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton is now charged with arranging for the removal of the 54-foot-tall granite structure “as soon as practicable” for storage.
“I want to commend council … we are doing the right thing,” Mayor John Rowe said following the vote Tuesday night.
The monument has long been controversial. Groups such as the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP have called it a “stain” on the city, saying it represents a hurtful message for Black Americans coming downtown.
The council has toyed multiple times in the past with relocating the monument from its longtime location in the middle of Court Street, near where it intersects with High street. But until July 1, state law didn’t allow for the relocation of war monuments and the ownership was in question.
In June, City Attorney Solomon Ashby advised the council that the city does, in fact, own it and has the right to move it.
Still, some council members were not in favor of relocation with Councilman Bill Moody comparing to action to “communist” and “fascist government” as it erases history.
“During the vote in 2017, I did vote ‘no’ to the relocation of the monument,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas Tuesday night. “However, tonight, we are in a different time and place.”
The council received 55 comments as part of the public hearing on the relocation. Comments were not delivered by phone or in-person, so 10 On Your Side does not independently confirm if the majority were in favor or in opposition, but Psmias said the majority supported the move.
Since June, the monument has been partially covered up and blocked off with a tall $10,000 fence.
The fence was installed after the 127-year-old monument was significantly damaged following a protest supporting its relocation. A man was seriously injured during that protest when one of the soldier statues was pulled down on top of him.
Virginia State Police are continuing to investigate the incident and no charges have been filed as of Tuesday.
Council members also previously approved $250,000 to cover the cost of moving the monument, but estimates on repairing the decapitated soldier statues have not come in.
“The moving of [the monument] does not include the repair,” Pettis-Patton said. “There was a team there today looking at the monument seeing what things need to be done.”
City Council has discussed for several years wanting to relocate the monument to a cemetery just outside Olde Towne limits, but the new resolution passed Tuesday doesn’t include a location to put it there anymore.
Per state law, the city must allow a museum or historical group to come forward first. However, just as in Virginia Beach, the monument could move before that. Crews removed the Confederate monument at the old Princess Anne County Courthouse over the weekend. It stood at that location since the early 1900s.
“Now, nothing stands in the way of the immediate removal of the stain from Town Square. Tonight’s decision moves the needle but we still have miles to go. We now expect the physical manifestation of tonights unanimous decision to act to become reality quickly, for our community has suffered under this oppressive symbol for generations. It’s been a long time coming–and a change must come. We have waited long enough!”James Boyd, Portsmouth NAACP President
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