By Lyra Bordelon
An online petition calling for the removal of the confederate statue in downtown Lewisburg has gathered over 900 signatures as of Wednesday, June 24, with many calling for the relocation of the monument to the confederate cemetery north of downtown.
Joined by mass protests and calls across the country to remove statues and monuments dedicated to the Confederate States of America following the murder of George Floyd in May, the open letter follows multiple protests in downtown Lewisburg, including a Juneteeth protest that was cancelled following an outbreak of Coronavirus cases in the county. The petition calls on the city and its residents to see what the statue symbolizes and the full history behind it.
“It was super cool to see such an outpouring of human beings sign it,” said local organizer Taylor Feury. “A lot of the names I did recognize and we’re approaching 800 names in five days. … We can acknowledge the history that America has and start taking steps to make it better. This is one of those instances of getting that neo-confederacy, fear ideology statue that’s on our streets into the proper area.”
In 2019, Lewisburg entered a new milestone – the election of Beverly White, the first African American woman mayor in the city’s history. When asked about the petition, White pointed to the city’s efforts with the North House Museum over the past year to place new signage around the statue, putting it in a local context.
“History happened – we can’t change it, what we must focus on is how we move forward,” said White. “We had a peaceful protest of over 300 people and no one was focused on a memorial marker that says ‘In Memory of Our Confederate Dead.’ They were focused on how we can make Black Lives Matter and Equal Justice and lifting each other up. The city will work with the North House Museum to create interpretive signage to educate our communities not divide our communities. Let’s move forward together to help our children learn and guide them to being adults who want to make a change.”
White called for residents to see the North House’s exhibit, “Echoes of Slavery in Greenbrier County,” an exhibit centered around the experiences of African American’s throughout the county’s history.
“It’s there to help us understand where we have been [and] where we are now,” White said.
Inscribed with “in memory of our Confederate dead,” the statue commemorates those buried in the confederate cemetery located on the recreational path between Lewisburg Elementary School and the Greenbrier County Public Library. The 95 confederate soldiers were killed and buried after the battles of Lewisburg and Droop Mountain, with the statue erected on June 14, 1906, in front of what is now the New River Community and Technical College campus and Carnegie Hall. The monument currently stands on the grounds of the old library building at the corner of Courtney Drive and Washington Street. Feury called for the statue to be moved to the cemetery.
“We cannot erase the history; if we erase history we’re likely to repeat it,” said Feury. “We don’t want to see anything happen to the statue besides move it to the confederate cemetery, which honestly would be more beneficial for people who are coming here to learn about history. … There’s a lot of people who come here and look for the confederate cemetery and then we can go ahead and add another piece to that, which is the confederate statue, and take it off the streets.”
Feury, joined by several Greenbrier County natives, composed the petition as an open letter to Lewisburg Mayor Beverly White and City Council.
“We are a small town, but a town that takes care of each other, and who do not tolerate hate,” reads the open letter. “But for years, a symbol of hate and racial injustice has stood in Lewisburg. A Confederate statue sits next to the former public library. It’s original erection was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group with known ties to the Ku Klux Klan … As a community, we will not stand for the continued presence of this statue. It represents the past and present suffering and subjugation of our black, brown, and indigenous people. It is a symbol of Lost Cause ideology, that only serves to intimidate these community members while holding a physical space dedicated to white supremacy. … As West Virginians, it is our duty to place ourselves on the right side of history. We respectfully demand that you take down the statue, and let us breathe easier as we fight for justice.”
Organizers are currently in communication with Lewisburg leadership and looking for quotes from contractors and crews on the relocation cost. Anyone, from individuals to construction companies, willing to donate funds, work, or equipment to the project can reach Feury at email@example.com.
“I think this community is really working hard to get themselves out of that complacency and moving towards activism … versus ‘hey we see this, we understand why it’s bad, but we’re also not going to make a big stink out of it’ and it not happen,” Feury said. “It is what I would consider a small reparation that can happen for this community alone. In the 1860s, according to the census, one in ten people were slaves. This county has a huge, huge history of slavery and a lot of it gets erased and not taught and swept away.”
Read Mayor White’s full statement below:
“History happened – we can’t change it, what we must focus on is how we move forward.
A memorial marker sits at the edge of town. I would like to see us focus on teaching our children how to live going forward. Learn from the past but don’t repeat it. North House Museum has an exhibit “Echoes of Slavery.” It’s there to help us understand where we have been – where we are now.
We had a peaceful protest of over 300 people and no one was focused on a memorial marker that says “In Memory of Our Confederate Dead.” They were focused on how we can make Black Lives Matter and Equal Justice and lifting each other up.
The city will work with the North House Museum to create interpretive signage to educate our communities not divide our communities. Let’s move forward together to help our children learn and guide them to being adults who want to make a change.”
-Mayor Beverly White
(Post publication edit: added phrasing to clarify those that started the petition either grew up in or currently live in Greenbrier County)