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Mathews County delays vote to hand Confederate monument over to private group

A statue of a Confederate soldier holding a gun and standing on a pillar
A Confederate soldiers and sailors memorial stands outside of the historic Matthews County courthouse. (Photo: Courtesy of Louise Witherspoon)

The Mathews County Board of Supervisors opted not to vote on whether to hand over its Confederate memorial to a private group that hopes to preserve the monument.

Tuesday night's nearly three-hour public hearing grew heated several times, including an exchange between a man and board chairperson Paul Hudgins.

Of the 59 people who spoke, about two-thirds were against the plan to deed the Confederate soldiers and sailors memorial — as well as a 21-by-22-foot segment of the county's historic courthouse green — to a private group run by David "Sonny" Fauver.

Fauver is a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter and has previously spoken in favor of protecting the monument, which was erected in 1912.

During that period, a huge wave of monuments were built across the South as a concerted effort by groups to perpetuate the "Lost Cause" ideology. That movement sought to reframe the South's role in and reasons for the Civil War — claiming slavery was not the central issue despite evidence from Confederate leaders — and reinforce white supremacy after Reconstruction.

Last year, the county put the question on its ballot: Should the memorial stay or go? Eighty percent of Mathews County voters elected to keep the monument where it stands now.

But that isn't enough for some members of the county's board, including Hudgins.

"I think all of us would've liked to entertain the idea that we can just leave it like it sits. ... That would be all well and good if the monument wasn't under attack," Hudgins said at a meeting in November. "It's obvious you've got groups of people, individuals or associations, that would like to see it taken down." 

The effort comes after places like Richmond and Norfolk have removed their Confederate monuments from public view, often giving them to museums or historical groups.

Charlottesville's Robert E. Lee statue — the focal point for the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017 — was melted down to make new art.

In Mathews, the draft of the agreement would give the private group ownership of the small plot on the corner of the courthouse green. The group would be responsible for upkeep of the property and monument, and forbidden from building anything on the site aside from a metal fence around the memorial.

The draft also says the group could not fly any flags on the property besides the U.S. flag, the Virginia state flag or the Mathews County flag.

Several Mathews residents have expressed concerns about giving away public land and what would happen with the monument and property once the county no longer had control of it.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.