Virginia Senate Wants to Make It Harder to Remove Confederate Monuments

Crews attach straps to the statue Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart on Monument Avenue Tuesday July 7, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The statue is one of several that will be removed by the city as part of the Black Lives Matter reaction. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Arianna Coghill

September 2, 2020

Senate members unanimously passed a bill to create a Capitol Square Preservation Council. It now goes to the House for a vote.

RICHMOND-The Virginia Senate passed a bill Wednesday that was easy to miss. Nobody spoke either for or against and it passed by a unanimous 37-0 vote. But the bill, which now goes to the House for discussion, would make a significant change. Specifically, it would put a stop to all removal of Confederate artifacts from government buildings until the Capitol Square Preservation Council signs off. 

The countless police killings of unarmed Black people across the country has reignited a long-held conversation about the memorializing of Confederate icons, leading several states to finally remove their statues and artifacts of these leaders.

Virginia, home of the former capital of the Confederacy, had more Confederate relics than any other state. And while a majority of the notable statues have been taken down, several government buildings, including the Capitol, still contain Confederate artifacts. 

What Does the Bill Do? 

SB 5407 grants the Capitol Square Preservation Council the power to “review and approve all plans or proposals for alterations, improvements, additions or renovations to, or other disposition of, any monuments, statuary, artwork or other historical artifacts contained within the Capitol Building.” 

That includes both the old and new Senate chambers, the old and new halls of the House of Delegates and the Capitol Rotunda. Basically, if this bill passes, nothing could be removed without permission from the Council. 

The council consists of 13 members- three appointed by the Speaker of the House, two chosen by the Senate Committee of Rules, five non-legislative citizens chosen by the governor and two citizens at large. The remaining members are chosen from a list of nominations from various Virginia museums and preservation organizations. 

The bill was proposed by Republican Senate Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., who’s been outspoken about his disapproval of the state’s attempts at removing various Confederate statues. 

In late June, Confederate memorabilia, including a life-sized statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed without announcement in the middle of the night. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) ordered their removal, saying “Now is the time to provide context to our Capitol to truly tell the commonwealth’s whole history.” 

Norment called the action an “arrogant and unaccountable” effort to “dismantle, destroy and conceal objects that recall the history of Virginia”, according to the Washington Post. 

Earlier in the month, Norment joined longside other GOP legislators to write a statement in opposition of Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to remove Virginia’s largest monument- a six story, bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

“The Governor’s decision to remove the Lee statue from Monument Avenue is not in the best interests of Virginia Attempts to eradicate instead of contextualizing history invariably fail,” said the statement.

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