Like Many Southern Towns, Parksley Faces Monumental Decision

0
260
A Confederate monument erected in 1899 stands in Parksley on June 17, 2020. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

The proposed sale of a Confederate monument erected in Parksley in 1899 is attracting attention.
The Parksley town council voted in June to sell the property for $1 to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
A public hearing is required by law before it can be sold.
It is not clear whether the town actually owns the monument and the land on which it stands — a deed recorded in 1903 says the lot was sold for $1 by the Parksley Land and Improvement Company to the Harmanson-West Camp, Confederate Volunteers. Still, Accomack County lists it as belonging to the town.
Mayor Frank Russell said this week the town’s attorney is still researching the property in county records.
“Until we find out whether we even own it, I have no comment. We don’t know whether we own it or not; we are trying to find out,” he said.
In the meantime, an Accomack County resident started an online fundraiser to make the town a counter offer for the property, a small lot at the corner of Cassatt Avenue and Mary Street.
The fundraiser, organized by Jay Ford, surpassed its $10,000 goal and had raised $11,295 from 139 donors by Wednesday, six days after it began.
“Should the town agree, the site would be used to erect the very first monument to Black persons on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, one of the oldest communities in the United States,” the description on the GoFundMe website says.
If the town rejects the offer, the money donated will go to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Black Lives Matter.
Asked why he started the fundraiser, Ford said, “It sort of built up in the wake of the George Floyd killing, with the ongoing conversation about racial equality and specifically letting people feel safe and making communities feel inclusive. It’s something that we have tried to explain to our daughters and that we thought was really important — to engage this conversation. To be honest, I felt like it was a conversation the Eastern Shore wasn’t taking in earnest.”
It is important that conversations about systemic racism take place in rural areas like the Shore as well in cities, Ford said.
“There’s no justice if we leave rural Virginia out of it,” he said.
Ford, who is White, participated in a rally in Accomac in June to protest Floyd’s killing and has been speaking with members of the local faith community about racism.
Additionally, as a member of Gov. Ralph Northam’s environmental justice council, Ford over the past year has gotten to hear from people of color around the state.
“And the most harrowing tales have been in the rural pockets of Virginia,” he said.
Two young women, Shanyette Dickerson, 28, and Taniqua West, 33, who helped organize the Accomac rally and are Black, spoke about the current discussion surrounding the Parksley monument.
“It’s not what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a little more positive than it is, simply because no one ever talks about that monument. It has been there forever, and now, all of a sudden, it’s a big deal that it comes down, when literally no one ever talks about it,” said Dickerson.
“Some people that are arguing about this right now just found out two weeks ago that there was even a Confederate monument on the Eastern Shore,” she said, adding she herself only found out it existed a couple of months ago when an acquaintance noticed the monument and went closer to see what it was.
Ford asked for their thoughts about the fundraiser before he did it, West said.
“If they think that we don’t realize that that’s a race issue, they are wrong,” Dickerson said about the town’s proposal to sell the property.
Since the rally, they helped found the Melanin Action Project, an organization devoted to seeking racial equity and which is collaborating with Virginia Organizing to promote policy change.
“It’s encouraging for us as Black people to know that we have some positive allies who aren’t in it to get their five minutes of fame,” Dickerson said, adding, “I might not see that change in our lifetime, but at least I know that I spent my years on this earth fighting for my community, for the equality that we deserve.”
West said the millennial generation, of which they are a part, may be key to bringing about change.
“We tend to dance to the beat of our own drum and we stand up…for what’s right, not taking no for an answer,” she said, adding, “…We have facts here…so you can’t tell me that my feelings are invalid, you can’t tell me that I don’t matter, and you can’t tell me that none of this stuff that we are going through, past and present, isn’t true — because it is.”
Ford said in other localities where monuments like Parksley’s are being removed, the action is “being coupled with a meaningful conversation on racial equality and what it means to be an inclusive community — and in many places they are adopting significant reforms.”
Parksley recently received a grant to revitalize its downtown and is the site of the new regional library and Eastern Shore Heritage Center, which are under construction.
The proposal to sell the monument and have it remain in place doesn’t fit in with those initiatives, according to Ford.
“I think we are all rooting for what’s happening in Parksley…This is out of step with those projects that are designed to bring people back into the town, to get people spending dollars from both locals and off the Shore,” Ford said.
Having “the very first monument to the accomplishments of Black Virginians on the Eastern Shore” in Parksley would send “an incredibly inclusive, welcoming message that mirrors the investment that, quite frankly, our tax dollars are going into through their revitalization program and the library — it says they are open for all people,” Ford said.