Controversy is swirling around Confederate statues and monuments.
While protests, beheading and toppling of statues have punctuated the cries for removal of Confederate statues, it’s caused some to turn an eye toward Halifax County’s own Confederate statue.
A statue of a Confederate soldier stands in the Halifax County Courthouse Square. It’s an emblem of the past, in the middle of a massive renovation project.
To Arthur Reynolds Sr., former chairman of the Halifax County School Board, the statue is out of place, a sore thumb sticking out in the midst of newness and progress.
“That statue just looks so out of place there. You see all this new construction, and that statue is standing there. Why would you have a statue of a dead person in front of a $30 million structure?” Reynolds questioned.
Meanwhile, protestors have advocated for the removal of Confederate statues in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced an order to remove the monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond, on June 4. But two lawsuits have delayed removal of the statue. Meanwhile, protestors in Richmond toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, the night of June 10.
Locally, Reynolds said he would like to see the statue moved to the Halifax County War Memorial down the street from the courthouse, which he deems a more appropriate place for it.
“It needs to be moved over to the war memorial. That way, you are honoring all soldiers, regardless of what war they fought in. If you’re going to honor the dead, let’s put them all together,” Reynolds said.
The statue of the Confederate soldier has stood at the Halifax County Courthouse Square since the late 1930’s. The statue replaced the original statue of a Confederate private soldier that was approved by the county’s board of supervisors in 1910, which was felled by a tree during a windstorm.
County administrator Scott Simpson told The Gazette-Virginian on June 8 that he had not received any requests for the removal of the Confederate statue at the courthouse square in his time with the county, nor was he aware of any such requests prior to his tenure here.
Halifax town manager Carl Espy shared his thoughts on the monument.
”We need a community conversation in terms of how to address this in the context of the overall courthouse work,” Espy said.
Reynolds believes a conversation about the relocation of the Confederate monument at Courthouse Square should be sufficient. He said he does not think a “bunch of marches and protests” should be necessary to accomplish making a change like that.
“I think the statue offends people, particularly those of us whose ancestors talked about what they had been through in the past,” Reynolds said. “When I go into the courthouse, I don’t want to look at something that reminds me of something in the past. I want to go in with a fresh mind.”
To Reynolds, the courthouse should be a place for justice for all, not justice for one person but not for another. He believes a statue symbolizing a time in the nation’s history when blacks and whites were not treated equally is not an appropriate emblem at the entrance of a beacon of justice.
Reynolds added that positive growth is taking place in Halifax County that has the potential to bring new people to the area, in particular the SOVA Innovation Hub under construction in downtown South Boston. The Hub is a partnership between Microsoft Corporation and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation.
“I would hate for somebody to come in and see the Confederate statue and think, ‘I don’t know if I want to come here. They’re still thinking in the old ways,’” Reynolds said. “We need to put the past behind us and move forward with new ideas….Hopefully, what is going on now can change the country. We’re trying to say, ‘Let’s be fair to everybody.’”
The Halifax County Courthouse renovation project is scheduled to be completed in April 2021. Whether or not the monument of the Confederate soldier will remain in its current location has yet to be seen.
Controversy over the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond persists. A Virginia judge issued a 10-day halt on Gov. Northam’s plans to remove the statue, as a lawsuit makes its way through court.
The suit is based on a deed from 1890 that gave the statue, pedestal and land over to the statue. A descendant of one of those donors says the deed obligates the governor of Virginia to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue.
Another lawsuit has been filed challenging Northam’s order to remove the state of Robert E. Lee and is making its way through federal court.
Patrick McSweeney, former chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, filed the suit on behalf of Helen Marie Taylor and five other anonymous people who claim to be Monument Avenue residents and voice concerns that removal of the monument will decrease property values in the area.