Albemarle County BOS votes to remove Confederate monument outside Courthouse

By Grace Ayyildiz

albemarle countyCourthouse Square will look markedly different by Sept. 6. In a meeting on Thursday night, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for the prompt removal of the “At the Ready” monument that sits outside the Albemarle County Courthouse.

Featured prominently in front of the courthouse, the monument in question— also known as “Johnny Reb”— features an elevated Confederate soldier in front of two cannons and cannonballs. Although it stands in downtown Charlottesville, its proximity to the courthouse means that it is technically on county land. Furthermore, the monument is mere blocks from the Stonewall Jackson Monument and the infamous Robert E. Lee Monument. The Lee Monument, and its proposed removal, was the subject of the neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. To some, the other Confederate monuments in the same vicinity, including the “At the Ready” statue, serve as a stark reminder of the violence of that day.

National Black Lives Matter protests have spurred the widespread removal of Confederate monuments across the country. These protests have brought issues of racial inequality up in the minds of many Americans, and consequently, brought Confederate monuments down. Richmond’s Monument Avenue has seen a radical reshaping of its landscape: the pedestals that once upheld Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Stonewall Jackson are now empty. At least three counties in Virginia will soon vote on whether or not to remove their own Confederate monuments. In that context, the movement by the Board reflects state and national renegotiation of the public sphere.

Much of the discussion within the meeting reflected the discourse of the protests, with contributors speaking to the racial harm caused by the presence of confederate monuments. Citizen speakers noted the importance of inclusivity within public spaces, and the significance of the monument’s placement outside the courthouse. Many explained how the monument was erected during the Jim Crow era and was intended to intimidate the city’s Black population. They argued that the statue recalls a painful past of racial oppression in Charlottesville, and throughout the entire South.

Some expressed concerns about the removal of the monument given its historical significance within the city. Others conveyed a different understanding of the history of the statue, and advocated for the alteration and contextualization of the monument. However, the Board ultimately concluded that complete removal was the best means of rectifying past wrongs and ensuring the safety of Albemarle’s Black residents.

From a bureaucratic lens, the Board’s decision is justified by passage of a new state statute, effective July 1, permitting the removal of war monuments by localities. In 2019, a judge blocked the City of Charlotttesville’s attempts to do away with the Lee Monument due to a Virginia law preventing alterations to war memorials. The new statute changes that order, and gives cities and counties the power to change their own monuments. And in accordance with the same statute, a museum or historical society can apply for county approval to relocate the removed monument within the next thirty days.

Board Chairman Ned Gallaway emphasized the need for even more concrete change. While expressing appreciation for residents’ input, Gallaway suggested that the Board would act on measures for affordable housing, equal education, and other policy in pursuit of racial equality within the County. Removing this monument, the Board hopes, is only the beginning of a more just Albemarle.

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