MATHEWS, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, a Virginia county is set to decide the fate of a confederate monument prominently displayed outside the local courthouse. But the question is not whether the monument should remain there. Instead, the board of supervisors will decide whether to sell the monument and the land it stands on to a neo-confederate-linked organization.

At a public meeting on Sept. 21, the board unveiled its proposal, which would see the monument transferred to a newly created shell company formed by local resident David M. Fauver — who the Washington Post reports is a member of the neo-confederate group Sons of Confederate Veterans.

A Matter of Public Property

A number of local residents turned out at the Sept. 21 meeting to protest the proposal, and many also submitted written comments ahead of the Tuesday, Dec. 6 meeting.

Tom Bowen, the Mathews County Commonwealth’s Attorney, wrote in a letter submitted to the board that if they do hand the monument to a private organization, it should be one with a board appointed in part by the county and with representation from both the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Black community.

He added that he thought part of the controversy around the monument was due to confusion over the purpose it served for the community.

“I believe the differing views about the monument are because the monument in many respects does not look like a war memorial,” he said to the board on Sept. 21. “It is the only war memorial in the county that does not list the names of the war dead, and, in the past, the monument has had confederate flags flying 24/7.”

The local chapter of the NAACP has also called on the not to transfer the monument, writing that selling the monument to the neo-confederate group would send “an unquestionable message of support for Confederate values, including the white supremacy that institution embodied.”

The confederate monument as it appeared before flags were removed earlier this year. (Photo: WAVY viewer)

Bowen said that the board should ideally retain ownership of the monument and add placards with the names of the Mathews County residents killed in the Civil War. He also said that only the U.S., Virginia and Mathews County flags should be allowed to be flown at the site.

One organization that could serve as an alternative is the Mathews County Historical Society (MCHS), which offered in a letter to the board to take on the monument in place of what they called a “newly formed organization about which very little is known.”

“Through sound historical scholarship, MCHS strives to preserve, protect, and present all aspects of the county’s unique cultural heritage,” wrote Reed Lawson, MCHS president.

The board evidently took at least some of Bowen’s suggestions to heart, amending their resolution ahead of the December 6 meeting to include an enforcement clause, allowing the county to remove “unauthorized flags or signs,” which would include small confederate flags that have been placed around the base of the monument in the past.

Not Whether, but How

Even as a majority of the commenters ahead of the Tuesday meeting spoke strongly against the proposal to sell the monument, many said they supported the monument itself, and thought it was a vital part of the county’s history. Indeed, in a 2021 referendum, county residents overwhelmingly voted not to relocate the monument by a margin of over 60%.

“You have asked us to tell you whether it is alright to sell public land,” resident Christine Aldritch said in September. “My answer, my feeling is that public land is a sacred trust, held for the good of the whole community.”

She added that she supports the monument itself, but thinks it needs to be placed in historical context.

“The confederate statue outside this building honors the personal bravery and self-sacrifice of individual people,” she said. “But now you apparently are considering a proposal to sell that public spot to a private group that of course wants to fly the flag of a government and a way of life defined and made possible by slavery.”

But some favored transferring the monument to the private group, saying they saw nothing wrong with the confederate battle flag, which is popularly associated with the confederacy, though it never served as its official flag.

Captain Mark Prescott, a local resident and Vietnam War veteran, said its use was prevalent in the marine corps, where he served.

“We weren’t allowed to fly an American flag unless we flew a Vietnamese flag with it, and the army of the Republic of Vietnam didn’t seem to be around when we had to fight,” he said. “We flew a confederate battle flag instead.”

Indeed, news accounts from the period report that it was flown extensively by U.S. forces there — and that the symbol was accompanied by widespread racial abuse, including the suspicious death of a Black commissioned officer after he had the flags taken down in his unit.

You can view an agenda for tonight’s meeting, which will be held at 6 pm in the Harry M. Ward Auditorium, on the county’s website.