By Stefanie Jackson – A public hearing on Eastville’s Confederate monument drew participation from citizens who agreed that something should be done about the war memorial, but they didn’t agree on what should be done.
Northampton supervisors held the public hearing during their Oct. 13 meeting.
Speakers appeared divided on whether the image of a Confederate soldier towering over the courthouse green should be removed or balanced by another monument built to represent an African American Union soldier.
Arthur Carter, of Nassawadox, who requested the public hearing, suggested the Union monument at the Aug. 10 supervisors meeting.
Charles Bell, a former supervisor and educator, originated the idea 25 years ago, Carter said.
The new monument would be built using private funding.
Granville Hogg, another former supervisor, agreed the Confederate monument shouldn’t be moved.
“It would be nothing but a tragedy to remove and try to just block out some portion of history. Do we not learn by our mistakes?” he asked.
Carl Bundick said monuments also should be built to honor everyday citizens who spoke against slavery.
His third-great-grandfather, David Nottingham Bull, lived in Red Bank in the Civil War era. Bull was tried, convicted, and imprisoned after becoming drunk at the Birdsnest tavern and proclaiming, “White men should not own Black men.”
Bundick would like to see a monument honoring “people who had a mindset to look beyond what was happening in the world and make a sound statement for the good of the county.”
Mike Ash, president of the Northampton Historic Preservation Society, voiced his personal support for Carter’s suggestion.
If the money can’t be raised through private donations to add a Union monument on Eastville’s courthouse green, then the Confederate monument should be moved, “preserved and saved for, perhaps, a meaningful and respectful exhibition at a later date,” Ash said.
Matthew Bernart, of Jamesville, did not recommend a specific course of action but pointed out that Eastville’s Confederate monument bears the Latin motto of the Confederacy, “Deo Vindice,” meaning, “God will vindicate us.”
That motto has become a “rallying cry” for Neo-Confederates and white supremacists, he said.
When the Daughters of the Confederacy and others had the monument built in 1913, they figuratively “planted a time bomb within a time capsule,” Bernart said.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is giving away $250 million in grants to fund new monuments and contextualize or relocate existing monuments, he noted.
William Murphy, Bill Payne, and Paul Strong, all of Cape Charles, wrote that an ad hoc committee should be formed to discuss the issue, assisted by an independent facilitator, and recommend a course of action to supervisors.
Willie Randall, another former Northampton supervisor, wrote a letter in favor of moving the monument to a museum.
“The Civil War was fought to ensure that slavery would remain a part of the south. These slaves were my (ancestors), and they did not have a say so in how they would live their lives,” he said.
“We do not need to be reminded of this racist symbol every time we go to a place of government business,” Randall said.
It’s time to remove the “traitorous symbol” and “start to heal our wounds of the past,” he concluded.
Oliver Bennett, chairman of the board of supervisors, relayed past experiences with racism that older Northampton citizens have had.
They were spit on by White students on a passing school bus. They couldn’t eat in a restaurant and had to get their food through a small window in the back. Black veterans were called the n-word by their commanding officers.
Bennett also experienced racism, but his elders “endured more than I ever will,” he said.
“How can I tell them I made a compromise?” he asked.
Northampton supervisors will continue discussion of the Confederate monument in November.