The Confederate monument in front of the Halifax County Courthouse is seen as a symbol of history. But for a sizable group of Halifax County citizens, the statue represents an era in the nation’s history that should not be glorified.
That’s why the group of citizens plans to ask the Halifax County Board of Supervisors at its Monday evening meeting to remove the Confederate statue from the front of the courthouse.
“Every time I see the statue, there’s this twinge of pain,” said Hope Harris-Gayles, co-chair of the One Community group advocating for the statue’s removal. “You put up monuments to celebrate things and bring attention. We should not be celebrating the cause of the Confederacy. Part of the cause of the Confederacy was to maintain slavery.”
Harris-Gayles added that in her opinion, what the Confederate statue represents is not representative of modern-day Halifax County as a community.
“I think Halifax is a welcoming, inclusive community,” Harris-Gayles said. “These Confederate statues are painful and divisive. Taking down the statue is a symbolic way of demonstrating the values that we hold dear. It’s a symbol that there is a place for everyone here in Halifax.”
Harris-Gayles is one of 740 community members who had signed a petition for the Confederate statue’s removal, as of Thursday afternoon.
“By signing this petition to remove the Confederate statue, we will be sending a powerful message to prospective businesses and other potential newcomers considering a move here that Halifax County is a strong, cohesive and peaceful community interested in addressing the rights and concerns of all its citizens,” the One Community page providing details about the petition states (https://change.org/halifax-va-statue).
The One Community group’s request for county officials to remove the monument at the courthouse comes at a time when protestors have advocated for the removal of monuments nationwide as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, fueled by the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The act of police brutality sparked an outcry for police reform, social justice and the removal of monuments evoking painful reminders of slavery for African-Americans. In Virginia’s capitol, Gov. Ralph Northam has called for the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue.
The Confederate monument in Halifax is in a very visible location, as well, on the main road through town, and it also is in front of the courthouse, where Harris-Gayles points out everyone expects to receive fair and equal treatment.
“That’s the one place we hope to all be seen as equal under the law,” Harris-Gayles commented. “When I see a Confederate statue walking up to a courthouse, I’m immediately questioning, ‘Am I going to get a fair trial?”
Another citizen advocating for the removal of the Confederate monument at the board of supervisors meeting, Nevaeh Hodges, shared her thoughts.
“To me, a Confederate statue sends the wrong message to people,” Hodges said. “By removing the statue, we are acknowledging that the history it represents no longer represents Halifax County…It’s not about erasing history. I 100% support the statue being moved to a museum. It’s a different way to go about our history when we can acknowledge it without honoring it and praising it.”
Hodges, a rising senior at Halifax County High School, organized a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest June 2 in South Boston’s Constitution Square, sparking community conversations about social justice. She is slated to receive a certificate of commendation at the board of supervisors meeting for her advocacy.
To Hodges, removing a symbol that many view as a symbol of systemic racism in American society is an important step in making a change and moving forward as a unified nation, and as a community.
“People are realizing that things that have been ‘normal’ in our society have been racist,” Hodges said. “Just because something has been there for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s right and doesn’t mean that it’s not racist.”
Harris-Gayles said speaking out against the display of racist symbols is important to her because she has three young daughters, and she does not want them to grow up in a world where they have to see racist symbols in their everyday life.
“I feel it is important to speak out because of my daughters,” Harris-Gayles said. “I think in moments like this, it’s important to speak out and be on the right side of history.”
The Confederate statue in front of the courthouse has a tumultuous history. The original statue to be placed in front of the courthouse in 1910 was identified as being a Union solider when it was unpacked, sparking a protest by Halifax citizens and leading to it being placed in a museum rather than in front of the courthouse. A different statue was placed in front of the courthouse in 1911, but that statue was blown down in a storm in 1916. The current statue that stands in front of the courthouse was purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1937, after being selected from several designs by the county’s board of supervisors.
Along with hearing the citizens’ comments regarding the removal of the Confederate statue from the front of the courthouse, the board of supervisors also is slated to receive an update on the courthouse construction at Monday’s meeting. The courthouse is in the midst of a $30 million renovation project.