State legislation to allow city to remove controversial statue

State legislation to allow city to remove controversial statue
Appomattox, which is located at the intersection of Washington and Prince streets, has been a point of contention in Alexandria (Courtesy Photo)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Gov. Ralph Northam (D- VA) signed a piece of legislation on Saturday granting localities the authority to remove Confederate statues and monuments, a power previously held by the state.

The legislation directly impacts the Appomattox statue, which sits at the intersection of Prince and South Washington streets in Alexandria and has been at the center of an ongoing controversy in the city for years.

The Confederate statue, owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was built in 1889 to commemorate those soldiers who left Union-occupied Alexandria and joined the Confederate Army. But the statue, like many Confederate memorials, is also part of a complex history.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of history involved in this and there’s a lot of symbol- ism involved in this. I think for many of our residents this was a symbol of a battle that advanced the slavery of our fellow residents. I think for others of our residents, it symbolizes a history of those who died for a cause,” Mayor Justin Wilson said.

City council unanimously recommended that the Appomattox statue be moved to a lot outside the Lyceum in 2016. The city also advocated for state authorization to move the statue. This effort was blocked by Republicans in the state legislature, but was revived by Democrats after they won majorities in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate last November.

The city began a dialogue with the Daughters of the Confederacy in January, knowing the legislation had a good chance of being passed. Conversations are ongoing, Wilson said. Because the Daughters own the statue and the City of Alexandria owns the land, a compromise will need to be agreed upon for the statue’s ultimate removal and display.

As for what will replace the statue, Wilson said ongoing concerns about traffic safety at the intersection – a driver crashed into the statue in December – means the spot might be empty in the future.

“My guess is that given so many residents also expressed concern just about the traffic safety aspect of that statue, it would be unlikely that we would put anything in that place,” Wilson said.