Thursday, January 29, 2004

RICHMOND — The Senate today will vote on a bill that would protect Virginia’s historic monuments, streets and bridges from being renamed, relocated or removed.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by a Senate committee, would require government officials to hold a public hearing before making any changes to landmarks and statues, including that of Gen. Robert E. Lee and others on Monument Avenue.

The bill’s advocates worry that the state’s history will be forgotten without the added level of protection.

“Once a street, bridge or building is named for a particular person, place or time it should never be changed because it reflects our history,” said Chuck Gudis, 11th District commander for the American Legion, Department of Virginia, which endorses the bill. “If we start changing these things, the younger generation loses the state’s history.”

However, state NAACP leaders want to fight the bill to keep it simple for localities to make name changes that honor less politically charged leaders than the Confederate leaders most of the state’s statues memorialize.

“We knew this was coming,” said King Salim A. Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP. “It’s perfectly fine for the localities to make those decisions.”

Democrat Gov. Mark Warner’s spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls, said his administration “has no position on the legislation currently.”

The bill, authored by Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, Chesapeake Republican, passed unanimously in the Senate General Laws Committee Wednesday and will move to the Senate floor today for a first vote. If the bill passes three votes, it will be forwarded to the House.

Mr. Quayle said he drafted the bill at the request of the Southern heritage groups, some of which were upset because “Richmond has renamed some things on their own without getting input.”

In 1987, the Jefferson-Davis Bridge was renamed the Manchester Bridge, and in 2000, the J.E.B. Stuart Memorial Bridge and the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Bridge were renamed after Richmond civil rights leaders Samuel W. Tucker and Curtis Holt Sr., respectively.

“The history of Virginia is one of our greatest treasures,” Mr. Quayle said. “It’s the birthplace of this nation.”

Over the years, there have also been debates over changing the name of the Robert E. Lee Richmond Boy Scouts troop to “Heart of Virginia” and renaming the predominantly-black Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Hampton. A teacher at the school is currently circulating a petition to change the name of the school.

Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the debate is about more than Confederate heroes.

“This protects all veterans, not just those from the Civil War,” he said. “This is just the beginning of some real protection for preserving Virginia’s history.

“Virginia’s biggest source of tourism is its history, and these streets and buildings and monuments were put there to honor people who have been military heroes or great leaders,” Mr. Bowling said. “New generations can name new stuff for modern heroes and should stop removing symbols of history and people of the past.”

Mr. Quayle’s bill would protect all monuments and memorials erected on public property from being relocated, removed or altered. It also would protect streets, bridges, buildings, parks, preserves, reserves or localities named for any historic figure or event from being renamed or rededicated unless a public hearing is held by either the Virginia Department of General Services or the locality.

The bill would allow city or state officials to temporarily relocate monuments or memorials for the purpose of necessary construction.

Mr. Quayle also has proposed a $30,000 budget amendment to help the city of Portsmouth repair its Confederate monument that has been damaged from erosion.

Mr. Quayle’s bill, however, does not protect the monuments from vandalism.

Earlier this month, the phrases “Death to Nazis” and “Happy birthday, MLK,” were spray-painted on the Lee statue on Monument Avenue, Virginia Capitol Police said. Mr. Warner called the vandalism “hate-mongering.” As of yesterday, police had no suspects in the case.

The Lee statue is owned by the state and protected by the Capitol Police.

The other statues on Monument Avenue are owned by the city of Richmond. The statues honor Davis, Jackson, Stuart, Matthew Fontaine Maury, a naval officer and oceanographer, and tennis legend Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and humanitarian.

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