Members of the Capitol Building Commission listened to, but did not heed, a call Wednesday to remove the Stonewall Jackson statue from the Capitol grounds before it becomes a national embarrassment to the state.
“You know they’re taking down statues in places like Richmond, Virginia, and VMI, and in the Deep South,” Howard Swint, a Charleston commercial real estate broker and longtime advocate for removing Confederate statuary from the Capitol grounds, told commissioners.
He was referring to removal of Confederate statuary from Monument Avenue in Richmond, most recently including the statue of Robert E. Lee, and the removal of an identical version of the Jackson statue from the grounds of Virginia Military Institute.
Swint called on commissioners to authorize moving the statue from the Capitol grounds into the State Museum under the guise of historic preservation.
“While you’re at it, you could take the bust [of Jackson] out of the [Capitol] rotunda and put it in the museum, too,” he said.
He said the state should be proactive in moving the Jackson statuary from prominent Capitol locations to avoid national media scrutiny should West Virginia, ostensibly a Union state, become one of the few remaining states to display Confederate statuary in public places.
“It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be bad for economic development, and bad for the state’s image,” Swint said.
In addition to avoiding national scrutiny, relocating the statue to the museum would protect it from ongoing deterioration from being exposed to the elements outdoors, he said.
He said the statue should be displayed with signage explaining its history, and pedestal upon which it sits returned to the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Commissioners listened to Swint’s comments, but did not respond to them, and technically, could not act on the request since it was not a posted agenda item.
Under state law, the Capitol Building Commission has authority over any “substantive physical changes to the grounds and buildings of the state Capitol complex.”
However, Randall Reid-Smith, who as curator of the Department of Art, Culture and History serves as chairman of the commission, told legislators in March he does not believe the commission has authority over statuary on the Capitol grounds since the law does not specifically cite the word “monuments.”
During the 2021 regular session, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would make it illegal to remove or relocate Confederate statuary from public places on a 70-28 vote, but the bill died when it was never taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Also during Wednesday’s Capitol Building Commission meeting, commissioners approved:
- A major project to effectively disassemble the north steps of the main Capitol in order to access and assess water damage to concrete slabs and steel support beams underneath.
That’s after a piece of concrete broke off and fell into the Journal Room on the ground floor of the Capitol in March, injuring a state employee.
Rex Cyphers, with WDP and Associates Consulting Engineers in Charlottesville, Virginia, told commissioners the water damage underneath the north steps apparently dates back to construction of the main Capitol, when contractors failed to install waterproofing membranes as architect Cass Gilbert had intended.
The project will remove and salvage limestone and granite treads and concrete stair slabs from the steps, he said. Once the damage is assessed, Cyphers said he will return to the commission for approval of a repair and restoration plan.
- A plan to replace carpeting in the lounge area behind House of Delegates chambers and in an adjacent members-only women’s restroom and lounge.
House Clerk Steve Harrison said the chambers lounge is a high-traffic area used by members, staff and pages during House floor sessions, and he said the carpet is worn and stained.
Carpet in both locations will be replaced with vinyl plank flooring, he said.
Continuing renovations to the Secretary of State’s suite of offices. The next phase will involve the main foyer entrance to the offices, including the main hallway, and will include replacing carpeting with hardwood flooring, removing wallpaper and painting walls, and adding new lighting in the entrance foyer.