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‘Turning Point’

Board of Visitors takes action after Aug. 11-12 rallies

Steve Hedberg

In 1903, the Board of Visitors authorized the Ladies’ Confederate Memorial Association to erect “at some suitable place at the University” bronze plaques to commemorate students and alumni “who died in the service of the Confederacy.”

The “suitable place” chosen was on the Rotunda, with tandem bronze plaques on either side of the door that faces the Lawn. Conspicuously absent was any mention of honoring alumni who fought on the side of the Union.

More than 100 years later, and in light of recent events, the Board of Visitors on Sept. 15 passed a resolution to take down the Confederate tablets, calling for them to be “preserved as artifacts of the era in which they were erected.”

The Board resolution calls on the University to study the appropriateness of commemorating all who served in the Civil War with a tablet on the Rotunda or to “in other ways tell the University’s history more fully.” That charge was directed to the Deans Working Group, which UVA Law dean Risa Goluboff was asked to lead in the aftermath of the now infamous Aug. 11 neo-Nazi torch march up the Lawn and to the Rotunda.

The resolution notes that UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History has found that more than 50 students or alumni, and one faculty member, were veterans of the Union Army or Navy, none recognized on Grounds for their service. None died directly as a result of the war, according to William B. Kurtz, managing director and digital historian for the Nau Center. Biology Chair Albert H. Tuttle served in the Union Army and taught at UVA when the Confederate plaques went up, he said.

Plaques on the façade of the Rotunda honor students or alumni who died in other wars, from World War I through the Iraq War, the resolution notes.

In related action, the Board strengthened the University’s open-flame restrictions and classified the Academical Village—the area that makes up Thomas Jefferson’s original plan for the University—as an official facility. That will bring open spaces such as the Lawn under permitting procedures and allow for the prohibition of firearms.

Two days after the Board’s unanimous vote, University workers removed the plaques and placed them in storage while an advisory group to the Deans Working Group identifies a more appropriate location.

The removal of the plaques was among the demands made by the Black Student Alliance, and endorsed by the Student Council, shortly after the August 11/12 hate rallies on Grounds and in downtown Charlottesville. Another demand sought the reinvestment in today’s dollars of a $1,000 pledge the Ku Klux Klan made to the University in 1921. President Teresa Sullivan said it is not clear if the pledge, which would be around $12,400 if adjusted for inflation, was ever fulfilled. But she told the Board she has allocated $12,500 from private sources to the Charlottesville Patient Support Fund to help pay the medical expenses of counterprotesters injured during the violence in August.

Bryanna Miller (Col ’18), the student member of the Board, calls the events of Aug. 11-12 “a turning point” for the University.

The Unite the Right rally was centered on the preservation of Confederate monuments like the ones “on the front face of our most famous symbol, and that just seemed wrong.”