Confederate statues in State Capitol remain unaddressed
George Copeland Jr. | 2/14/2020, 6 a.m.
As the General Assembly wrestles over whether to give localities the right to control their Confederate monuments, their debate is being waged in the State Capitol — a virtual shrine to the Confederacy.
A full-size statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee adorns the museum-like Old House Chamber, a largely ceremonial room on view to visitors and during tours. It was at that spot where the statue stands, docents tell visitors, that Gen. Lee accepted command of the Army of Northern Virginia, leading the Confederates’ strategy and battle efforts in the Civil War against the United States of America.
The room also is lined with the busts of 15 others, six of whom were leaders of the Confederacy, including Confederate President Jef- ferson Davis of Mississippi, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia and Confederate officers Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph E. Johnson and Fitzhugh Lee.
A plaque honoring Confederate House Speaker Thomas S. Bocock adorns one wall, a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Outside the building, three statues to Confederates are situated on the grounds of Capitol Square, including one of Stonewall Jackson on the walkway connecting the Capitol and Old City Hall.
While these symbols don’t have the visibility or the scale of the equestrian statues drawing contention on Monument Avenue, they still honor a traitorous regime that turned against the U.S. government in order to keep humans in bondage.
They remain largely out of the limelight and unaddressed, even as lawmakers push to change how Confederate imagery in Virginia is presented, maintained and controlled.
While some cities, including Richmond, have removed the names of Confederates from schools and roads, localities have been blocked by state law to move or alter war memorials. Localities from Richmond to Charlottesville have requested local contol over Confederate statues and memorials within their jurisdiction.
Bills giving localities that authority passed their respective chambers in the House and Senate earlier this week, along with a bill creating a commission to replace Virginia’s statue of Gen. Lee in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
But no bills addressing the Confederate memorials inside the State Capitol or on the Capitol grounds were introduced this session.
“Whether it’s this Capitol, the U.S. Capitol, whether it’s on Monument Avenue, in the middle of Norfolk, a park in Charlottesville, none of them should be on publicly owned property,” Delegate Lamont Bagby, chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, told the Free Press in a recent phone interview.
“We are working expeditiously to address all of them. Make no question about it,” he said. “And we are doing it in a very strategic manner.”
He also stressed the need for the legislature to be prepared before committing to any ac- tion, including determining what statues and memorials the General Assembly has jurisdiction over and which ones fall under Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s oversight, as well as any legal ramifications.
The Free Press learned through inquiries that the House and Senate clerk’s offices are responsible for the interior spaces in the State Capitol dedicated to their respective legisla- tive body, while memorials and statues on the grounds of Capitol Square fall under the state Department of General Services, which comes under the purview of the governor.
Asked by a Washington Post reporter in January about the statues of Gen. Lee in the Old House Chamber and on Monument Avenue, Gov. Northam called the statues “offensive to a lot of people,” but didn’t elaborate much beyond that.
“It’s a discussion that needs to take place with a number of individuals.”