PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The initiative to possibly move Portsmouth’s 54-foot-tall Confederate monument out of its prominent location in Olde Towne is gaining speed.
Portsmouth City Council met via video call Tuesday night. At the end of the meeting, Mayor John Rowe proposed a plan to the council on how they could quickly start to take action on relocating the city’s Confederate monument, which sits on Court Street near where it intersects with High Street.
The NAACP has long called for its removal and this is far from the council’s first time debating the issue.
Mayor Rowe said he wanted to take another step forward at City Council’s next meeting: He asked the city attorney to give an opinion on whether the city actually owns the 127-year-old monument and has the right to move it. He also proposed committing $100,000 so the city manager could look at two sites for relocation: the Cedar Grove or Oak Grove cemeteries.
Due to a recent bill signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, cities are now allowed to move or alter Confederate monuments they own starting July 1.
Following the meeting Tuesday night, several dozen protesters gathered at the monument, some carrying signs.
Whether to move the monument could also end up being a decision made by the city’s residents. Councilman Bill Moody suggested putting issue to a citywide vote rather than council making the executive decision.
“Removing history is something I associate with bad government, communist government, fascist government….that’s why we have the Holocaust Museum in D.C. … to remind us to never let this happen again,” Moody said.
In the meantime, Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke suggested putting a tarp or covering over the statue until a decision could be made on where to move it.
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Overnight the monument was covered in sheets and bags, with “black lives matter” spray painted on the sheets.
But a man came by and removed the coverings around 6 a.m. He said the Confederate soldiers were his ancestors.
“They were just fighting for their land. I really don’t think it was about slavery not at all,” he told WAVY’s Kiahnna Patterson.
Jon Francis, a Portsmouth native, also walked by and says he wants the monuments removed as soon as possible.
“It’s a statement. It’s saying change is coming. We will rise again and again. It’s a beautiful statement and that is a beautiful sight.”
However, there are some complications to the relocation that need to be figured out first.
Ownership of the monument — and therefore who has the right to move it — is still unclear.
In 2016, the City of Portsmouth went to court to ask for a declaratory judgment to establish its ownership of the monument, which at one time was owned by the Stonewall Camp.
The modern Stonewall Camp #380, Sons of Confederate Veterans filed an objection to the city’s complaint. A judge ultimately ruled in 2018 he couldn’t name the city the owner, simply because no one else was trying to claim it.
Portsmouth is just one Hampton Roads city that’s considering moving its Confederate monument.
Virginia Beach is also considering the future of its monument, although officials there haven’t made a concrete decision yet.
In January, the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission recommended against moving the city’s Confederate monument after a committee called for adding context. That modification would have included lowering the statue, adding an African American statue, and installing historical markers that describe the horrors of slavery.