This is part one of a two-part editorial. Part two will run Friday, June 26,
One spring day in 2008, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors made history, whether it intended to or not.
In May 2008, the board agreed to put up a new Confederate statue in front of the courthouse, replacing one from 1910 that had been smashed to bits the year before by an errant driver in a pickup truck.
There had been some debate preceding the vote on whether Franklin County really ought to be putting up a new Confederate statue. However, local history buffs called the original statue “central to the identity of the county” and its loss akin to a “death” in the family. Supervisors put it back up and kicked in $500 of taxpayer dollars, accepted a $500 donation from a former state legislator, and hoped that insurance money would cover the rest (which it did).
What supervisors didn’t know then, and what they didn’t know when the new statue was dedicated in 2010, was that they were putting up what seems to be the last Confederate statue erected on public property in Virginia — and one of the last in the country.
The big surge was in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which coincided with the rise of Jim Crow laws, and a second wave in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which coincided with Southern resistance to integration orders. You can draw your own conclusions about cause-and-effect there. In any case, with the current movement to go the other way —and take down some of those monuments— it becomes a matter of historical curiosity to look at what was the last one to go up.
This is an easier question to ask than answer. There is no master list of Confederate monuments. The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains what appears to be the most complete list, but it’s still incomplete because we found some Virginia monuments that aren’t on it.
Here’s what we can say. The Franklin County statue is not the last Confederate statue erected in Virginia. There was one that went up in Campbell County in 2016 — but it was built on private property, a key distinction. It’s possible, though, that the Campbell County monument — an obelisk with the phrase “lest we forget” and some words about the “courage and patriotism” of rebel soldiers — is the most recent Confederate monument erected anywhere in the United States.
The SPLC list doesn’t list any since then (it also doesn’t list that monument). We found at least six others that went up after the Franklin County statue — one on courthouse grounds in Texas in 2015, one on private property in Georgia in 2012; two on courthouse grounds in Tennessee in 2012 and 2011, one on courthouse grounds in North Carolina in 2011 and one in South Carolina on private property in 2011.
This is where things become difficult — or not, depending on your point of view.