Article written by Paige Stewart
St. a Confederate soldier stands atop a stone pedestal. He faces due south, towards home, with a rifle at his side in a rest position. Commissioned in 1909 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the monument was placed on the front lawn of the then Roanoke County courthouse, now Francis T. West Hall of Roanoke College. Its existence has gone largely unnoticed by the student body, despite its prominence. However, questions over the statue’s origin and its belonging are now more relevant than ever after white supremacists incited violence in Charlottesville last month over a Confederate statue of their own, igniting a debate both in Virginia and elsewhere.
When Roanoke College purchased the courthouse in 1987, the monument, along with other objects on site, was included in the sale agreement. According to Roanoke College archivist Linda Miller, all of these objects were removed before the sale, but the Confederate statue had come into question because it was unable to be moved. Director of Public Relations Teresa Gereaux says that the Committee for Constitutional Law tried to protest the sale in court, but its efforts failed and the sale proceeded. However, one lasting effect from the objection was that the judge delegated rights to the statue to Roanoke County officials. Thus the College would own everything on courthouse property except for the statue.
After all of the items were removed from the lawn and the sale was processed, Roanoke College converted the courthouse into the academic building now commonly known as West Hall. At the time the monument was built, Miller says, there was little reaction from the general public. Monuments of generic Confederate soldiers appeared frequently throughout the postwar South to memorialize those who served. In light of recent events in Charlottesville, however, this Confederate statue presents a new challenge for the Roanoke College community. “President Maxey is working to establish a group of faculty, staff, and students to look at how the College can use the monument for an educational purpose,” says Gereaux.
So, while the College can take advantage of the monument as a teaching tool, it does not have the power to remove it. Still, students express personal opinions on the matter. Junior Meghan Rudolf, for example, says, “To me, it means that even though those young men died fighting for the Confederacy, we do not forget their deaths. It’s a symbol of us as Americans coming back together and healing and recognizing on both sides.” No matter the position, the Confederate monument offers not only Roanoke College but the greater community the chance to confront these issues. “This is an educational opportunity to look at it from a variety of viewpoints,” said Gereaux.