Roanoke city leaders asked for suggestions to rename Lee Plaza

It was home to the city’s Confederate memorial until last summer

ROANOKE, VA. – The Confederate memorial in downtown Roanoke was removed last summer and now city leaders are working on renaming the plaza where it stood.

On Thursday night, the public got to weigh in on what they think Lee Plaza, named after the Confederate General, should be called.

Roanoke’s newly formed Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board met Thursday night to discuss the change some feel has been long overdue. Vice-Mayor Trish White-Boyd leads the board and it fielded about a dozen calls from people during a public hearing to give suggestions for the new name.

“It was very well attended I think we got a lot of great recommendations so we have our work cut out for us but we have a lot to work with including the generic names,” White-Boyd said.

The most popular suggestion was naming it for Henrietta Lacks, the Roanoke woman whose cancer cells led to groundbreaking medical discoveries.

Others suggested naming the plaza for local civil rights crusaders such as Rev. RR Wilkinson or William Bernard Robertson. A few others liked something more generic such as Patriots Plaza or Freedom Plaza.

“It says a lot about our community and their engagement and what happens and what we do in the city so we couldn’t have asked for a better first public hearing,” White-Boyd said.

Roanoke’s Democratic city council has looked unfavorable on Lee Plaza and the memorial over the last few years. Mayor Sherman Lea has said the deadly riots in Charlottesville cemented his opinion that the memorial needed to go.

Up until last year, state lawmakers had not given the city permission to remove the memorial, as required under the Dillon Rule. The city included a request for many years in its legislative agenda but never got anywhere. That all changed when state lawmakers passed a blanket law allowing all localities to make changes to their monuments and memorials.

Renaming the plaza was always the next step.

“The EEAB will have further discussion and we will present a recommendation to city council and then council will then have further discussion and then council will make the final decision,” White-Boyd said.

A decision is expected by late spring and White-Boyd said no matter what they choose, it’s a step in the right direction.

“It will give it a little jump start, if you will, by giving it a new name and this new name will generate curiosity and people will want to see what we’ve done and that will generate traction in itself,” White-Boyd said.

A local cemetery took possession of the Confederate memorial and intends to put it on display with appropriate context.

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