Petition to relocate Confederate monuments from Abingdon courthouse gains traction

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ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL)- A petition to relocate two Confederate monuments from Abingdon’s courthouse has nearly 1,500 signatures as of Tuesday evening. The petition comes amid a nationwide conversation on whether Confederate monuments should be on display in public areas.

Abingdon resident and UVA Wise political science professor Heather Evans said she started the petition two weeks ago.

“In no way am I calling for the eradication of monuments,” Evans said.

The petition calls for the Washington County Board of Supervisors to consider moving them from the front of the courthouse to Sinking Spring Cemetery. Evans said the monuments would be more contextualized in Abingdon’s Confederate history at the cemetery.

“The courthouse is supposed to be for ‘justice for all.’ Which means that if anyone is walking into that courthouse, they walk by these statues and these monuments,” Evans said. “Changing that a little – the monuments still exist – but they’re not right there.”

Confederate monuments in Abingdon

A counter-petition by an anonymous user has also been started, calling to “Save the Confederate statue” and has thousands of signatures.

Evans has received threatening comments and messages since starting her petition.

“I have received push back,” she said. “There have been various people. You could call it online bullying, in terms of comments that are being sent to me on Facebook and even through email. But generally, I think this is something we should talk about.”

Evans will make a presentation at the Washington County Board of Supervisors meeting July 14th. Chairman Dwayne Ball said the board will hear public comments that night. They could make a motion regarding the future of the monuments after that.

“We felt she has the right to be heard. I think there’s two sides to every story and I’m open to hearing them both,” he said.

Ball said the Board of Supervisors has never discussed moving the monuments before.

“The cemetery is owned by the town, so that would be another issue you’d have to try to look at, and what would be the logistics of how that’s going to work,” said Ball. “There’d be a lot to look at if the idea was even entertained.”

Virginia passed a law in March allowing localities to decide whether or not to keep Confederate monuments. The law takes effect July 1st.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Confederate statue was relocated. The statue was unveiled in 1907. It moved from the center of Main Street to beside the courthouse in 1936 for safety reasons.

A poem about the statue archived at the Washington County Historical Society

Records from the Washington County Historical Society show even then, there was a push against relocating it just feet away. A poem entitled “The Picket Changes Post” was published in a newspaper June 11, 1936. One verse reads:

‘You’ve been long at your station, old soldier, And faithful to duty, indeed. But that is old-fashioned now, soldier, In this era of “progress” and speed.’

Abingdon’s courthouse is also due for an upcoming renovation after last November’s referendum. Evans said moving the monuments would provide more space for the renovations, in addition to the message it would send.

“[It] will be a move that will make our community more welcoming to people of color,” she said.

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