The newly created Botetourt County Committee on Monuments and Memorials hopes to have a non-binding recommendation before the Botetourt Board of Supervisors by January addressing the future of the courthouse’s monument honoring local Confederate forces.
Botetourt County Supervisor Stephen Clinton said the committee is looking at what impact the monument had on the county’s post-Civil War period and its historical significance. “We need to go about this diligently keeping in mind the history behind the monument,” he said after the Sept. 10 meeting.
The formation of the committee comes amid widespread protest against perceived police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S. Many of the protestors argue monuments of Confederate figures honor slavery and oppression, while proponents argue the figures are part of the country’s history, believing it is time to confront the country’s history, not whitewash it.
“Confederate monuments have become targets because they are powerful expressions of the brutal practice that led to [George] Floyd’s murder; they are art work that gild the system,” Kirk Savage, an art historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies public monuments, told NPR.
A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll asked Americans whether the monuments should “remain as a historical symbol” or “be removed because they are offensive to some people,” 67 percent of white respondents thought they should stay, as did 75 percent of whites who were not college graduates; 65 percent of Latinos were fine with keeping the statues, as were 44 percent of Blacks.
Symbols of the Old South are coming down across the nation. In Alabama, the heart of the Confederacy, lawmakers removed the Stars and Bars from the state flag. And in Richmond, a monument honoring Confederate commander Robert E. Lee came down earlier this summer. “In 2020, we can no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of enslaved people,” Gov. Ralph Norton tweeted earlier this summer. “Yes, the statue has been there for a long time. But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now. So, we’re taking it down.”
In July, the Botetourt monument was vandalized when a woman threw red paint on it. The obelisk, which was erected in 1904, names all the companies from Botetourt County that served in the Confederate forces. The Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office said the incident is still under investigation.
It’s against that backdrop, county leaders decided to form a committee to study how to handle the monument. The aim of the committee is to use research to better understand the meaning behind Confederate monuments, Reconstruction history, the repugnant Jim Crow laws and Confederacy pride. “I hope we can do some research to better understand the history of what we’ll be talking about,” he said in an interview prior to the first meeting. “Even though some of us have a great deal of pride in what the Confederate monuments represent, we don’t really know how they came about and what the sense of the community was at that time.”
Botetourt County has two monuments paying homage to Confederate soldiers, the other being on private, church land in Buchanan, Clinton said.
Those on the committee include:
• Oldfields/Reservoir Road Community: Bill Tanger
• Botetourt County Historical Society and Museum: Beth Leffel
• Botetourt Genealogy Club: Greg Rieley
• Botetourt Artillery: Lewis Sifford
• Historic Fincastle: Mitch and Bobbie Lou Bowman
• Daughters of Confederacy: Harriet Francis
• VFW Posts-Daleville and Buchanan: Bill Price
• Botetourt School Board: Chester Adams
• Town of Fincastle: Pam Binns
• Countywide League: Bernard Haynes had replaced Curtis Brown
• Botetourt County Clerk of Court: Ed McCoy
Clinton said given the complexity of the research, the committee decided to form workgroups and to meet twice a month, instead of once, before presenting a recommendation to Board of Supervisors. In the near future, the committee will also invite students from Lord Botetourt High School, James River High School and the homeschool community to participate in the research effort.