Eastern Shore Confederate markers draw strong emotions

Why now? Virginia's Eastern Shore Confederate monuments draw strong emotions

PARKSLEY, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- Two Confederate monuments stand on the Eastern Shore of Virginia: one in Eastville, the Northampton County seat, and the other in Parksley, in Accomack County.

Such monuments across Virginia increasingly are becoming the subject of controversy, with some localities contemplating removing them, or voting to do so. The debate over monuments comes amid a larger national discussion on race relations after last weekend's violence in Charlottesville.

A woman was killed and others injured during a demonstration against the proposed removal of a 1924 statute of Gen. Robert E. Lee when an alleged member of a white supremacist group drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters downtown.

SEE ALSO: Demonstrators gather at Norfolk Confederate monument

President Trump waded into the controversy by insisting that left-wing counter-protesters were as much to blame as the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who got a permit to march in the city. 

The Eastern Shore monuments are among more than 200 public symbols in Virginia memorializing the Confederacy, according to a May 25, 2017, article in the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia.

'Why stir the pot?'

A reporter's request for Eastern Shore residents to discuss whether they think changes should be made to the Parksley monument erected in 1899 elicited a barrage of more than 640 comments in less than 24 hours. The request was made via Facebook on Wednesday.

Some did not want the subject raised at all.

"Why stir the pot?" asked Royce Stafford of Onancock.

Others echoed the sentiment, and some claimed asking the question was merely a media stunt.

"Removing history will not help anyone so intolerant of truth that it needs to be hidden, said Keith Underhill. "The problem is not statues, it is an attitude that the past should be erased."

Still, Logan Tymoff asked: "What if women didn't 'stir the pot' to be able to vote and have equal rights? What if civil rights activists didn't 'stir the pot' to ensure equal rights for all humans, regardless of the color of their skin?

"Being a sentient human means that we DO stir the pot. Not 'stirring the pot' means that we remain stagnant and unevolved. I get it — this subject brings forth a lot of fear in people. Change is scary ... even change that is necessary.

"I would urge you to think of how black folks feel every time they see a statue erected to a Civil War 'hero.' These statues were erected as a means of intimidation."

Scott Whitaker of Onley, along with others, said Parksley residents should decide the matter with their town council and planning commission.

Joshua Bowen of Exmore pointed out, as have others in the national discussion, that the monuments were not erected until many years after the Civil War, during the Jim Crow era.

"No one should think that these statues were meant to be somber postbellum reminders of a brutal war. They were built much later, and most of them were explicitly created to accompany organized and violent efforts to subdue blacks and maintain white supremacy in the South," he said.

Others want the monument to stay as it is.

"I say leave it alone, it's one of our few ties to 'mainland Virginia,'" said William Alan Vose of Exmore.

"Leave Parksley alone," said Robert Thornes Jr. of Parksley. "Don't touch nothing."

Said Stephanie Womack, a North Carolina resident originally from Onley: "This is history; stop trying to erase it! It solves no issues to get rid of it."

"This a part of our history," said Donna Drew of Melfa. "You cannot change history, but you can learn from it. And pray God will help us not to make the same mistakes again."

Susan Moore, who is from Cheriton and lives in Hampton Roads, said this: "It is a memorial monument to men who died, it is not a monument to the Civil War."

Holly Young of Parksley said the monument should stay as it is, "because the monument honors men who died for what they believed was their country. It is in memory of the dead and that should be respected like a grave stone."

Kim Wright said she would like to see monuments that are taken down preserved somewhere "and not merely discarded or destroyed."

Said Martha Jane Linton of Saxis: "The way I feel about all the statues and monuments, if there is so much hate for these each state should agree on taking them all down and relocate them to a memorial park in Gettysburg in honor of the Civil War and represent each state that they come from. It would be better for this than to cause all this chaos."

Added Clelia Marie Jane Sheppard: "For now, they look regal from a distance but future plans for a new and all inclusive statue that commemorates a time in a post civil rights era would be highly called for given the current social climate."

READ MORE: Baltimore removes Confederate statues in wake of Charlottesville

There's also a wide range of opinions being expressed nationally.

Some say Confederate monuments in Virginia and elsewhere should be removed and destroyed; some say they should be moved from public places to museums; others advocate adding educational information to the sites; and still others say the monuments should remain as they are.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — an Eastern Shore native who is the Democratic candidate for governor — both weighed in on the matter Wednesday.

"The discussion regarding whether to relocate Confederate statues is an important and legitimate conversation that should take place in each community that contains one," McAuliffe said.

"Monuments should serve as unifiers, to inspire us collectively and to venerate our greatest citizens. Unfortunately, the recent events in Charlottesville demonstrate that monuments celebrating the leadership of the Confederacy have become flash points for hatred, division and violence," he said.

Calling the monuments "a barrier to progress, inclusion and equality in Virginia," McAuliffe encouraged localities and the General Assembly to take them down and relocate them to museums "or more appropriate settings."

Northam said he supports Charlottesville's decision to remove the Lee statue.

"I believe these statues should be taken down and moved into museums. As governor, I am going to be a vocal advocate for that approach and work with localities on this issue," he said.

"We should also do more to elevate the parts of our history that have all too often been under-represented. That means memorializing civil rights advocates like Barbara Johns and Oliver Hill, who helped move our Commonwealth closer towards equality."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, sought to catalog Confederate symbols in public places in the wake of the 2015 slaying of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylann Roof, according to the Daily Progress.

13News Now Investigates: Which groups protested in Charlottesville

The center identified a total of 1,503 sites dedicated to the Confederacy in the state, including 223 "publicly supported spaces," according to the article.

The figure “does not include approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events," the article said.

History of the Parksley monument

The Parksley monument is unusual in that it is not located at the courthouse in the county seat, Accomac.

Local historian and former Accomack County Administrator Arthur King Fisher recounted the history behind the monument's siting in 2010, when the town celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Parksley's founding came with the building of the railroad in the 1880s. The town's founder, Henry R. Bennett, was a paint salesman from Dover, Delaware, who saw the potential in turning farmland into a new town along the railroad tracks on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Bennett began selling lots from a 400-acre tract in 1885 and spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to relocate the county court from Accomac to his new town.

The Confederate monument, located in a small park on the corner of Cassatt Avenue and Mary Street, was built in Parksley in 1899 as a kind of consolation prize for the town, in place of a courthouse, Fisher said, noting the monument was funded by donations.

PHOTOS: Confederate Monument in Parksley, Virginia dates to 1899

Numerous newspaper articles from the era detail fundraising efforts — dinners, bazaars and the like — undertaken over a several-year period by the Harmanson-West Camp Confederate Volunteers, based in Jenkins Bridge.

"Pursuant to a call of the Chairman, the Memorial Committee of Harmanson-West Camp of Confederate Veterans met at Accomac C. H., to initiate measures looking to raising funds to build a monument to the Confederate Dead," a Peninsula Enterprise article from April 2, 1892, said.

A deed recorded Feb. 2, 1903, said the lot was sold for $1 by the Parksley Land and Improvement Co. to the Harmanson-West Camp, Confederate Volunteers.

The cornerstone was laid Aug. 31, 1899, according to a newspaper report. The monument cost $1,675, according to the newspaper.

A plaque on the monument says it was unveiled Oct. 20, 1899.

A newspaper article said the ceremony was held before "a vast throng of people from every section of the county, estimated from 1,500 to 2,000."

A large Confederate flag flew throughout the day from a 75-foot pole and others were also displayed on the grounds, the article said.

The monument was made by Gaddess Brothers of Baltimore of Barre granite, and is about 30 feet tall, according to the newspaper report.

On one side, an inscription reads: "They fought for conscience sake and died for right."

A second side reads: "At the call of patriotism and duty, they encountered the perils of the field and were faithful even unto death."

The third side says: "They died for the principles upon which all true republics are founded."

The front of the monument gives this information: "Erected by Harmanson-West Camp Confederate Volunteers in memory of their dead comrades from Accomack and Northampton Counties."

A similar monument in Eastville bears the inscription: "Erected by Harmanson-West camp Confederate veterans, the daughters of the Confederacy, and the citizens of the Eastern Shore of Virginia to the soldiers of the Confederacy from Northampton and Accomack Counties. They died bravely in war, or, in peace live nobly to rehabilitate their country. A. D. 1913."

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