WASHINGTON — A push to block any changes to Confederate monuments or memorials fell short in Virginia’s General Assembly this week after some heated debate.
Republicans who supported the bill vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe say it clarified that all war monuments should be protected.
“I do find it inappropriate and especially ungrateful to tear down and remove monuments [and] memorials in honor of Americans who served the cause of their time due to continuous shifting political whims of today or in the future,” the bill’s sponsor, Del. Charles Poindexter, argued before the House of Delegates voted 68-32 to override the veto.
“History is what it is, and history is what it was. There’s good in it, there’s bad in it and there’s ugly in history,” he said.
The Senate, however, failed to override the veto with a 21-18 party-line vote.
“Let’s be real … we’re not talking about the Spanish-American War, we’re not talking about the Korean War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, or any other war, what we’re talking about is the Civil War,” said Sen. Mamie Locke.
Locke, who is black, said the bill would stop important and legitimate discussions on the local level about whether Confederate symbols and memorials should be removed or get additional explanation.
“It seems odd to me that when we talk about erecting monuments to memorialize the contributions of others who look like me, or Native Americans, or women, we seem to run into obstacles and walls from the very people who want this legislation,” she said.
Sen. Bill Stanley, a Republican, says the bill would have been an important way to ensure those killed in battle are properly honored.
“This merely clarifies that all war memorials, all those that celebrate and solemnize those that give their fullest measure, their last and greatest breath for this country and for us that we remember them and we preserve those monuments that remember them lest we soon forget,” he said.
“These are monuments of history: good history, bad history, whether we like it or not.”
In the House, Poindexter disputed the impact the bill would have had on local authority.
“I would argue that these are state as well as American historical resources,” that help visitors and Virginians learn “the long saga of the Commonwealth,” he said.
Del. Mark Levine, a Democrat who lives in Old Town Alexandria, says he changed his vote to vote against the veto override because of plaques and monuments that fail to tell the full story.
“I don’t believe that any monuments including Confederate monuments should be disturbed. We have a beautiful statue in Alexandria, in Old Town, that is in memory of the Confederate soldiers, but the governor’s veto points out that sometimes we need to explain things, sometimes we need interpretations,” he said.
“We need at the Hotel Monaco another sign to tell the full story of what happened at the Marshall House so that only the Confederate side, which I think should be left alone, should not stand alone.”
The plaque there tells of a man who died defending his property. That man was shot by a Union soldier after he killed a second Union soldier who had run in to take down a Confederate flag. They were among the first deaths of the Civil War.
A work group is scheduled to come back later this year with recommendations for the state government on how to handle the controversy surrounding Confederate issues.
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