‘You Don’t Move History’: Community Divided Over Confederate Statue

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Residents and business owners are split over a decision to move a historic statue in Alexandria depicting a confederate solider that some find offensive, but proponents are unlikely to get their way.

The City Council of Alexandria, Virginia voted Sept. 17 to move the famous Appomattox statue from an intersection in historic Old Town to the lawn of a nearby museum. On the same day, local lawmakers voted to approve a motion allowing the city to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway due to its affiliation with the confederacy and slavery. The statue depicts a nameless confederate soldier bowing his head after the confederacy surrendered to Union forces at Appomattox, reports The Washington Post.

“It is a confederate statue and simply the word ‘confederate statue’ already implicates controversy towards its existence, but the title of the statue is Appomattox,” Gary Eyler, historian and owner of the Old Colony Shop in Old Town, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If you look at what happened at Appomattox, it was where the north and south agreed that the south was beaten. I look at the statue as viewing history, and not trying to be a part of the history but just trying to understand it.”

The Council plans to seek input from the public on renaming the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway, but they need permission from the Republican-led Virginia Legislator to move the Appomattox statue. Virginia law prohibits any municipality from moving any monuments or statues in the state.

Community members seem to feel most strongly about their desire to change the name of the highway.

“It was named after the number one traitor in American history. Why should we honor him?” Tom Osborne, an Alexandria resident who testified about the Jefferson Davis Highway before the council, told TheDCNF. “I don’t feel exactly the same about the statue. The individual soldiers who fought for the confederacy didn’t all do it for all the same reasons. But I am concerned that it honors only those who sided with the confederacy. There were those locally who sided with the Union.”

Proponents want the statue placed on either the lawn or inside The Lyceum, Alexandria’s history museum. It currently sits on the spot where a Confederate regiment retreated from the city in 1861. (RELATED: Alexandria Moves To Get Rid Of Confederate Statue, Rename Jefferson Davis Highway)

“I think it belongs in a museum,” Anna Fitzgerald, a shop owner in Alexandria, told TheDCNF. “While I don’t personally find it offensive, and I’m not very much into political correctness, things like that cut deep with people. I’m not trying to forget about our past. I just think that it’s something that should probably be in a museum.”

A task force commissioned by the council to consider renaming the highway and moving the statue told the council it probably should be left in place. The task force recommended the city change the highway’s name, but characterized the statue as simply “a sad and unarmed soldier, not a heroic figure.” They recommend the council commission create a plaque for the statue that clarifies its meaning to tourists.

“It’s history, you don’t move history,” Patty Theobald, owner of The Irish Walk in Old Town, told TheDCNF. “You teach people how to understand it. I totally agree with the confederate flag because that has a negative connotation, but statues, names of generals and everything, that’s history, I’m sorry.”

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