Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday issued a rebuke of a Confederate symbol removed from its place atop an archway at Fort Monroe in Hampton.
Northam spoke Tuesday near an arch on Fort Monroe where last week workers removed letters that read, “Jefferson Davis Memorial Park” soldered onto the arch.
“Removing these letters from the arch and adding signs with an honest interpretation of a troubled time in Virginia’s history is far more welcoming and reflective of our values,” Northam said. “Whether we are addressing long-standing inequities, or removing a memorial to a defender of slavery, it is through our actions that we will tell the world what kind of place Virginia is today, and tomorrow.”
Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was imprisoned at Fort Monroe on charges of treason at the end of the Civil War.
The arch was erected in 1956, around the time Virginia established the policy of Massive Resistance to school desegregation following the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The arch is a wrought-iron structure built by the Army with $10,000 from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In an April letter to the leaders of the Fort Monroe Authority, Northam had requested that the entire arch be removed, arguing that “while it is appropriate to discuss and interpret Jefferson Davis’ imprisonment at Fort Monroe, it is not appropriate to glorify it.”
Fort Monroe, in Hampton, sits on a peninsula called Old Point Comfort, where the first enslaved Africans in English North America arrived in 1619. The state will commemorate the 400th anniversary of their landing Aug. 23-25 with a lineup of events in Hampton.
In his April letter, Northam called for the Confederate symbol to be removed before the events. “These symbols are incompatible with the message and understanding we must convey at Fort Monroe this year.”
The letters will be placed in the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe.
Two signs were also erected in the last week explaining the origins of the archway.
The text inscribed on the signs reads:
Sign 1: The Jefferson Davis Memorial Arch was erected in 1956 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, with the permission of the U.S. Army, to commemorate the imprisonment of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Fort Monroe. The arch was rededicated in 1986.
After the Civil War, Jefferson Davis stood as the most vocal proponent of the claim the war had been a constitutional struggle, not a fight over the future of slavery in the United States. His claim was part of the Lost Cause crusade, in which white southerners sought to elevate secession, the Confederacy it created, and the war it waged into a high-minded crusade.
Sign 2: This memorial to Jefferson Davis, for some, conjures up a sense of heritage and history. For others, it is a symbol of hate and highlights the intent to exclude African Americans from public life and civil liberties. This memorial was placed here during the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s, a time which triggered a wave of Confederate monuments and the renaming of public buildings and spaces. Some Virginia cities and counties closed their schools in “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s invalidation of segregation, arguing that it was the state’s right to determine relations between black and white people. The new memorials, such as this arch, celebrated the heroes of the Confederacy as defenders of an unfairly oppressed region, in opposition to this federal ruling.