Years ago, I worked at an office in Washington DC, and one morning, while drinking my coffee, I noticed there was a yellow duck in the painting that was hung outside my office. I had been working there for a few years and had never noticed the duck. Apparently, the same thing happened with members of the Library Board.
The WWII memorial plaque that now hangs in the “WWI Memorial Library”, which has been around since the 1920s, is at the center of a broiling battle pitting woke Social Justice Warriors against intelligent advocates of history, perspective, and common sense.
The bone of contention is that the plaque breaks out the list of war casualties by race. One list has white casualties of World War I, the second list has the names of African-American casualties. The term “colored” appears at the top of the African-American list. The offense that is taken not only pertains to the separation by race but that the “colored” list appears below the Caucasian list.
At the May meeting of the Cape Charles Library Board, member Nancy Vest asked to add a discussion about the appropriateness of the WWII memorial plaque displayed in the Library. That item was placed on the May agenda so that the library’s Grand Poobah, Chris Bannon could be in attendance.
The Shore Daily News reported that board member Cathy Fox has come prepared with a scorched earth policy, noting that the state code makes it a crime to move a war memorial from its original place, adding “It values the whites. It undervalues the blacks…Essentially it should have stayed when we moved”, and that it would be “the town’s problem.” Fox also said she is ready to take this fight to the next level if need be, and that she would use the courts to obtain an opinion on where the final resting place for the memorial should be.
Advocating for common sense and perspective, Town Council member Chris Bannon countered that given the time period, the plaque actually shows that the town was fairly progressive since it put both black and white names on the same memorial (even as the schools were still segregated).
Will the plaque have to move back to confines of the Civic Center? Town Planner Larry DiRe has contacted the town attorney to review the issue.
Below are some opinions by the Attorney General on the subject:
ATTORNEY GENERAL OPINIONS
2015 AG Opinion (2015 WL 4850422) – § 15.2-1812 applies to monuments for any war or conflict, including an engagement in such war or conflict, or for war veterans, but not to memorials or markers erected to recognize the historical significance of buildings.
2017 AG Opinion (2017 WL 3901711)
· Question Presented: How § 18.2-1812, or other legal restrictions, impact the authority of a locality to remove or relocate war or veterans monuments on property owned or controlled by the locality?
· Three Considerations: (i) the application of § 15.2-1812, (ii) whether monument subject to individual Acts of Assembly governing their construction and maintenance, and (iii) whether monument subject to restrictions in documents transferring ownership of monument to locality or restrictions imposed as a result of subsequent actions of the locality.
· Regarding application of § 15.2-1812:
o Does not apply to any monument or memorial constructed prior to 1904.
Also does not apply to a monument or memorial erected on any property other than the “public square” at the county seat prior to 1997. [Unclear if this applies to the Cape Charles Plaque.]
o Also does not apply to any monument or memorial erected within an independent city prior to 1997.
2018 AG Opinion (2018 WL 4945133)
Question Presented: Whether the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors would violate § 15.2-1812 if it authorized the demolition of a former high school (DMHS), given that the building was constructed in memory of the soldiers, sailors and marines of Dickinson County who lost their lives in World War I?
Conclusion: DMHS not subject to § 15.2-1812.
As originally codified in 1904, § 15.2-1812 had a much more limited scope, applying only to “the erection of a Confederate monument upon the public square of [a] county at the county seat thereof,” when so authorized by joint action of the county’s board of supervisors and circuit court. It was not until 1930 that the General Assembly extended these statutory protections to monuments to the “World War,” and not until 1997 that the requirement of joint action of the county’s board of supervisors and circuit court was eliminated.
· Applying the above principles – DMHS subject to § 15.2-1812:
When DMHS was constructed in the 1920s, the statute protected only monuments that had been erected by joint action of a county’s circuit court and its board of supervisors. DMHS was not constructed pursuant to that statutory scheme.
The statutory protections in place in 1920 covered only Confederate monuments, not World War I monuments. When the General Assembly revised the statute in 1930 to protect World War I monuments, it omitted any intent to extend protections to existing monuments.
At the time of DMHS’s construction, the statute protected only monuments constructed “upon the public square of [a] county at the county seat thereof.” Even though DMHS was constructed to “stand as a monument and memorial to soldiers, sailors and marines” who died in World War I, the nature of a high school facility distinguishes it from the type of war monument that the General Assembly authorized county boards of supervisors and circuit courts to construct “upon the public square.”
2018 AG Opinion (2018 WL 6929178) – The placement of a proposed Emancipation Proclamation monument in a county’s “Civil War Park” does not implicate § 15.2-1812.