‘Johnny Reb’ no longer welcome in Norfolk: Virginia city gets OK to move Confederate statue

2019-10-23 13:56:38

The Virginia city of Norfolk has the right to move its “Johnny Reb” Confederate statue from a busy downtown intersection to a local cemetery, the state attorney general and a local prosecutor have determined.

Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory Underwood filed court papers late Tuesday saying his office and the office of Attorney General Mark Herring have determined the statue, dedicated in 1907, is technically exempt from a state law banning the removal of monuments to war veterans.

The law, which dates back to 1904, banned counties from moving such memorials. It was updated in 1997 to include cities in the ban. Underwood says the city would only be governed by the law if the statue were built after 1997.

He adds that neither his nor Herring’s office have any interest in stopping the city from moving the eight-story monument, which features a Confederate soldier atop a pedestal. The site has drawn a series of protests with chants of “Johnny Reb is not welcome here.” 

“I have no intention of ever taking any enforcement actions,” Underwood wrote. “In my judgment, I would lack the authority to bring any enforcement action regarding the monument … because the city of Norfolk erected that monument nearly a century before the General Assembly amended these challenged statutes.”

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Norfolk officials voted to remove the statue more than two years ago, soon after a deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville prompted by that city’s plans to remove a Confederate statue from a downtown park. That incident prompted scores of cities across the nation to tear down or move Confederate memorials.

The Norfolk vote, however, came with a proviso that the statue would be moved if it was legal. Last year, the city filed suit against the state, the state attorney general and Underwood claiming the state law banning the removal of war memorials infringed on the right of free speech.

Charlottesville’s efforts have not been so successful. This month, the city announced plans to appeal a judge’s decision banning the removal of statues honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The judge rejected Charlottesville’s free speech claim.

In Norfolk, Mayor Kenny Alexander told the Virginian-Pilot he would leave details of the monument’s move to city staff.

“I think the city has been very clear that the statue should be in either a museum or park or cemetery where persons who want to continue to pay their respects to the Confederate dead will have that opportunity,” Alexander said. “It should not be located in a busy intersection on Main Street. That’s an awkward place for it.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Confederate monuments: Norfolk, Virginia can move Johnny Reb statue

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