Rockville debates removal of Confederate soldier statue

A statue of a Confederate soldier that stands outside the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville was the subject of a packed meeting Monday night as residents and city officials debated whether to keep it where it is or to remove it.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett initially said he wanted public input on the statue. But last week, he ordered the statue removed before this public hearing took place.

This bronze statue of the Confederate soldier has stood tall in Rockville for 102 years.

But should it stay or should it go? The public, historians and the city council sounded off their thoughts at the meeting.

"Give it back to the people who gave it to us," said one resident who commented at the meeting. "It was a gift. Not all gifts are forever. Give it back to them and let them put it up in their front lawn."

"If the statue is uprooted from its place, what other symbols of our history and/or slavery might follow?" a historian said.

"I'm all for moving the statue to a place where we can recognize history, but not necessarily glorify it," said Myshelle Robinson.

The issue was divisive and emotional.

"County Executive Leggett said in no uncertain terms the statue will be moved," said Council Member Tom Moore. "I agree with his decision and I applaud his boldness."

"I have no problem with it staying," said Barbara Heirsch. "It's very different than the flag flying at the state capital in South Carolina."

At the packed meeting, the debate centered whether the monument represents history or racism.

"By eradicating history we don't want to hear or see means we have yet to heed those lessons which history serves to teach," said the historian.

"To relocate or remove any Confederate monuments is the surrender to the roots of the world who so pollute our society with their repugnant and toxic vitriol," said another resident.

It is unclear if the issue is a moot point since Leggett already ordered the statue removed. But some feel Rockville's Historic District Commission needs to sign off on that decision.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is supporting Leggett's decision and has written a letter to Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and members of the city council asking for the immediate removal of the Confederate soldier statue. He wrote:

"Dear Mayor Newton and Members of the Rockville City Council:

"I am writing to express my support for efforts to remove the statue of a Confederate soldier near the lawn of the Red Brick Courthouse, one of Montgomery County's most historic landmarks. I stand with County Executive Leggett in supporting immediate action to remove the statue from the lawn.

"Last month, I traveled with President Obama and some of my Congressional colleagues to Charleston, South Carolina, where we stood in solidarity with the families of the men and women tragically gunned down at Emanuel AME Church. We mourned with those families and were uplifted by the President's powerful eulogy, in which he called for transformative action.

"As you know, earlier this month South Carolina voted to take down the Confederate flag that had hung in front of its Statehouse for over fifty years. Beyond the Confederate battle flag, there is no place for other symbols of a shameful era of institutionalized racism in public spaces - including the statue near the Red Brick Courthouse.

"I urge immediate removal of the statue from its current location."