Christiansburg approves tribute to African American history to be installed near existing Confederate monument

A clash over Confederate and African American history made its way to Christiansburg Tuesday night

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Standing in the center of Christiansburg Town Square is a 15-foot monument to Montgomery County’s Confederate soldiers. Soon a tribute to African American history will stand by its side.

Tuesday night, Christiansburg Town Council approved a proposal for an African American History and Storyboard Project in Town Square, the very same spot where slaves were auctioned hundreds of years ago.

“This is a shared story. There’s got to be a way for us to come together as a community,” said Chris Sanchez, the executive director of Christiansburg Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to African American cultural heritage and historic preservation. “We have actual historical evidence.. auctioned in that same square.”

The Christiansburg Institute teamed up with the Montgomery Museum of Art and History four years ago and came up with the idea.

The three storyboards will cover education, slavery and community life detailing the experience of African Americans in the area.

“They have never had to go through what my ancestors went through,” said Debbie Sherman-Lee, the chair of the institute’s board. “Part of it’s going to be hurtful, but we want to get past that. But you have to go through the whole story and part of the story is hurtful. But I see us going forward from that. We’re not going to dwell on that. We just want to tell the story so that it’s a true story of what has happened.”

During the meeting, the council heard from dozens of citizens. Nearly everyone who took the podium was in favor of the project.

“Whatever pain that storyboard causes a white person is nothing, nothing compared to what has been done in this country’s history,” said one woman.

But a handful expressed concerns during the meeting and in emails to council members.

“We need to be careful that we don’t make us individuals feel guilty for what our ancestors have done,” said one man during the meeting.

Vincent Corbisiero attended the meeting and told 10 News he is worried about the cost. The town agreed to pitch in $12,000 to $14,000.

“I have no problem with having historical significance, but I want to make sure that it’s for the right purposes and we’re using our tax dollars wisely,” said Corbisiero.

Mayor Mike Barber says the town can use other revenue sources and not taxpayer dollars.

“I think it’s the right move. It’s not only the right move for the town council, it’s the right move for Christiansburg and Montgomery county.”

The project’s sponsors said they don’t want to tear down the confederate monument or remove history but add to it.

“We just wanted to add the African American history to tell the whole story,” said Sherman-Lee. “That was our goal: to tell the whole story.”

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