From State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria/Arlington/Fairfax):
The horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend have given new urgency to the important discussion of public monuments to the Confederacy. Locally, we have the Appomattox statue at the intersection of Washington and Prince Streets in Old Town.
The statue is owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy but is on land owned by the City of Alexandria at the point where Alexandrians left to join with the Confederate Army. The City has been precluded from removing or relocating the statue by state law.
Currently there are two statutes preventing the statue’s relocation, the most specific of which (1889-1890 Acts of Assembly Chapter 119) states:
“That said monument shall perpetually remain as at present erected at the intersection of Prince and Washington streets, in the said city of Alexandria, and that the permission so given by the said city council of Alexandria, for its erection, shall not be repealed, revoked, altered, modified, or changed by any future council or other municipal power or authority.”
The Governor vetoed a 2016 bill the General Assembly passed to STRENGTHEN another potentially applicable code section in 2016.
I will be introducing legislation, with the cooperation of the City Council, that would allow for the relocation of the statue. If successful, it would be up to the city, presumably in consultation with the statue’s owner, to relocate or return it.
In giving thought to the location of the statue in the past, I have sought out opinions of African-American leaders and tried to understand what a Confederate monument in the heart of Old Town means to them. Hard as that may be to truly appreciate, it has become readily apparent what statues like Appomattox mean to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That sickening reality has underscored the need to push for enabling legislation.
Those who would argue against giving localities authority regarding the siting of monuments sometimes claim that to do so is an effort to “erase history.” I would respond that localities relocating, or even removing, statues does not erase the history of the Confederacy, but rather just ceases to publicly honor it.
In recent years, I have focused my efforts on affecting a name change for Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. Since moving to Virginia in 1989, I have found it troubling that the gateway to our Commonwealth is named for a non-Virginian who led the treasonous uprising of the Confederate states against our nation.
At my request, Attorney General Mark Herring considered the matter and issued an opinion clarifying Alexandria’s authority to name roads within its borders. Unfortunately, Arlington does not have the same legal authority to rename roads without state approval. The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to begin the process of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway and an Ad Hoc Advisory Group has been convened to evaluate options for renaming Route 1. Naming suggestions I may be submitted to the Advisory Group through September 15th. My preference is to rename Route 1 “Richmond Highway” as it is designated in Fairfax.
It is long past time that we, as Virginians, address the impact that lionizing the Confederacy has had on the character and laws of our Commonwealth. We must do so with an honest understanding of the history of oppression of Virginians of color–and what symbols of that history still mean today. For communities like Alexandria and Charlottesville, this means allowing localities to address these symbols in the manner they deem appropriate.
I agree with Governor McAuliffe who recently stated, “Monuments should serve as unifiers, to inspire us collectively and to venerate our greatest citizens.”