By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday night to remove the Confederate monument from the historic courthouse green in Eastville, the county seat.
“Most people who have defended the statue say that it was a monument honoring the Confederate dead. And if that is the case, then perhaps it should be in a cemetery,” said Vice Chair Betsy Mapp.
Bill Payne, of Cape Charles, raised the issue of the Confederate monument in August 2020, in light of recent protests across the country involving the defacing, destruction, or removal of monuments commemorating controversial figures of American history.
The Eastville monument is a white granite statue of a Confederate soldier standing atop a tall pedestal, with cannons around its base.
“That Confederate monument is out of place,” Payne said Tuesday.
The monument promotes “distrust in our leadership, distrust in each other, and that’s not right,” he said.
Paul Strong, of Cape Charles, submitted written comments that were read into the record, including a copy of a letter to the editor that was printed in the Dec. 25 edition of the Eastern Shore Post.
He noted that the Confederate monument was erected during the Jim Crow era and to call it “a celebration of history makes no more sense than to leave up signs identifying ‘Negro water fountains’ or ‘Colored waiting rooms’ as relics we are proud of.”
Dr. Arthur Carter, of Nassawadox, proposed keeping the Confederate monument and constructing a Union monument to honor the 943 Eastern Shore men who served in the Union army during the Civil War, 87.5% of whom were African American.
The new monument would be topped by a black granite statue of an African American Union soldier. Near both monuments would be listed the names of all Eastern Shore soldiers and sailors, whether Union or Confederate, who fought in the Civil War.
But Supervisor Oliver Bennett was not willing to accept a compromise.
“All history is not good history,” he said.
He refused to support the Confederate monument remaining on the courthouse green as a symbol of “unfair and inhumane treatment.”
It was Bennett who had made the motion to take the matter of the Confederate monument off the table, because he felt it was time to stop “kicking the can down the road.”
Supervisor John Coker had voted “no” to Bennett’s motion, later explaining he did not feel ready to discuss the issue, considering the security breach at the U.S. Capitol by protesters last Wednesday.
He imagined a similar scene in Northampton’s administration building: “people coming in here and … sitting in Charlie’s chair with their feet up on his desk … that nauseates me.”
During the discussion of the fate of the Confederate monument, Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski estimated the cost to remove the monument would be $8,000 to $60,000, based on how much other counties have spent on similar projects.
Northampton would need to request proposals for the work to get more accurate cost estimates.
The county would need to seek offers from organizations that want the Confederate monument and decide if it would consider all offers, including those from organizations that may “glorify” the monument, Kolakowski said.
Northampton also must decide how much funding it would contribute to the project.
Mapp suggested that if the Confederate monument were removed, it could be replaced with a bronze statue of a dove taking flight to symbolize peace and freedom – ideas that are “positive to everyone,” she said.
Chairman Dixon Leatherbury suggested allowing Carter 60 days to return with a formal proposal for the addition of a Union monument on the courthouse green.
He amended the deadline to 30 days and made a motion seconded by Mapp, but the motion was denied when both Bennett and Coker voted “no.” Supervisor Dave Fauber was absent.
Coker immediately made a new motion to remove the Confederate monument.
After suggesting the monument may belong in a cemetery, Mapp voted with Coker and Bennett in favor of removing the monument. Leatherbury voted “no.”
The vote was the first official action supervisors took on the matter since an Oct. 13, 2020 public hearing in which citizens offered their own opinions on whether the Confederate monument should be recontextualized or removed.