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Petition filed to stop renaming of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington

LEXINGTON, Va. – A petition was filed Thursday in an effort to stop the renaming of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington.

Lexington City Council began the process of changing the name in early July.

The petition’s organizer, who did not want to share her name publicly, told WSLS 10 News she wanted to preserve the history of the city.

“There are things in the world that everybody is not going to like,” said the organizer. “You just need to move forward and push forward, and unfortunately look past it.”

During the July 2 council meeting, a vote officially began the renaming process.

“Folks that are talking about erasing history, the Stonewall Jackson tomb and cemetery will still be there. That’s not changing. The name of the cemetery is changing,” said Lexington Mayor Frank Friedman.

After the vote to rename the cemetery, council gathered name suggestions through a community survey. Here are the final four options: Unity Cemetery of Lexington, Oak Grove Cemetery of Lexington, Main Street Cemetery of Lexington and Lexington Memorial Cemetery.

“There is no reason to do all of this. I understand and do feel bad for people of races that it may offend them. I’m offended by McDonald’s. I don’t like it. Does that mean we should get rid of all McDonald’s?” said the petition organizer.

One of her main concerns is the impact on local tourism. She said people have already vowed to never spend money in the city again if the name is changed.

“While we appreciate that, council has within their authority to change the name and are planning to do so. The question is what the name will be,” said Mayor Friedman.

Prior to its current name, the cemetery was owned and operated by the Presbyterian church. The city took control in the late 1940s.

Before a written declaration in 1971, people of color were not allowed to be buried onsite. This is all according to the rules and regulations of the cemetery.

Mayor Friedman said council will likely vote on a name change in two weeks. An ordinance to officially adopt the name is expected September 3.

Here is a copy of the letter sent to council from the petition organizer:

"Dear City Council & City Attorney,

I would like to submit and request that the attached comments and petition be read and acknowledged in your online meeting set forth for August 6, 2020 at 8:00PM. Since the citizens and community cannot be seen or heard in person. I expect that it is fair to request and declare that for each and everyone who took the time to write a comment and sign the petition, that they ALL be formally acknowledged by City Council reading each and every letter and comment submitted. Failure to do so is negligent and contrary to your own online policy statement.

The attached comments and petition are hereby officially submitted for the City Council & City Attorney to review, accept and acknowledge.

To date: 8/6/2020 we have 5,411 individuals who oppose the renaming of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. This petition grows by the hundreds per day.

Your continued assertion to change the name of the cemetery is unauthorized by many of your residents who are your tax payers. They were uninformed of this declaration to change the cemetery name and many of the elder residents do no use ZOOM, FACEBOOK OR YOUR PORTAL. Furthermore deeming this to be an unfair practice and not in the best interest for the community.

The fact that you are still continuing the EMERGENCY DECLARATION AND ORDINANCE PERMITTING CITY COUNCIL AND SUBSIDIARY ENTITIES TO CONDUCT ELECTRONIC MEETINGS is affirmation that you do not want the public to be heard in person, as city council prefers to pick and choose which online comments, letters and formalities suit your best interests.

Members of City council including Mayor Frank Friedman approved the permits and even attended the George Floyd Vigil and BLM movement but you still refuse to hold public hearings. Why is that?

There is an outcry from citizens all around the United States pleading for you to stop with the Historical name changes. Keep our beautiful Historical town as is! Tourist are claiming that they will never visit again. College parents are proclaiming that they will not spend a dime in our town and will take there business elsewhere. Is this the warm and fuzzy impression that you want for our city?

It is also being sought out that Stonewall Jackson is federally protected because Stonewall is a veteran and is protected by the Veterans Administration.

“WE THE PEOPLE” deserve a proper stake in this decision and it needs to be formally put to ballot in the next election.”

About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.