Option to remove Confederate monuments presents complex challenges in Lexington

LEXINGTON, Va. – The question of whether Confederate monuments should stay or go is on the mind of leaders and the communities across Southwest Virginia. Lexington, perhaps, knows how deeply rooted the statues are to our history more than anyone.

Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced his plans to remove several statues along Monument Avenue in Richmond, including a 6-story tall Robert E. Lee monument.

In Lexington, Mayor Frank Friedman says no monuments exist outside of those on the private property of the two colleges -- Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. Therefore, the city government has no control over the existing historical markers.

Robert E. Lee is buried in Lexington under Lee Chapel on Washington and Lee’s campus. Stonewall Jackson is also buried in Lexington, at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.

“Washington Lee, again, in particular, has been going through a process of changing the name of some of their buildings and looking at how they evaluate naming some of their buildings," said Friedman. "VMI has done a great job of going through and analyzing their history, if you will, and working towards a more harmonious future for the institute.”

Following the Governor's announcement Thursday, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax spoke candidly and passionately on the "necessary" spark for change.

“This is not something that invites Unity, invites participation, invites equality. That’s got to change," said Fairfax.

Not everyone agrees.

“This is history. You can’t change history," said Grayson Jennings.

Jennings is a member of Virginia Flaggers, a group that marches through Lexington annually.

“Those things are made of granite. Flags are made of cotton or nylon. Who in the hell gets traumatized by a piece of stone," said Jennings. "I mean, they’ve been there for over a hundred years. They don’t traumatize anyone. It’s all made up crap.”

Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax says the state will support local municipalities if they need help removing the controversial historic markers.

“There have been conversations. Like, ‘Why is the Stonewall Jackson cemetery called the Stonewall Jackson cemetery?’ It originated with the Lexington Presbyterian Church and they essentially gave it to the city," explained Freidman.

The city owns Stonewall Jackson cemetery. Friedman tells 10 News a group has approached his team in an effort to rename the site. He says he’s working to develop a committee to begin the conversation over whether or not that will/should happen.

Governor Northam says the removed monuments will be placed in storage until a new home is found.