As Danville City Council members met in a closed session to discuss a request to remove a Confederate flag monument from the lawn of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, dozens of people from various heritage groups all over Virginia gathered to show their support for keeping the flag where it is.
City Attorney Clarke Whitfield said council would be discussing the issue during a closed meeting at the end of the work session, but that no action or announcements were expected Tuesday.
Whitfield had been researching a legal issue surrounding a 1994 agreement between the City Council and the Heritage Preservation Association that established the Confederate flag monument on the lawn of the Sutherlin Mansion.
The Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, which is located in the Sutherlin Mansion, has asked Danville City Council to remove the flag monument from the mansion’s lawn as part of a larger effort to redefine the museum.
The issue is before City Council because Danville owns the building and the city government is responsible for the maintenance of the building.
Some of the people at Tuesday’s meeting were in period uniforms, like Willie Wells, of Prince George County, who said he and his wife are both active in heritage preservation groups, he as a member of the Army in Northern Virginia group and his wife as president of the state Order of the Confederate Rose.
“Guarding our heritage is a sacred rite,” Wells said.
At the door, Susan Hathaway, of the Virginia Flaggers in Richmond, handed out Confederate flags to others who were arriving to show there support for keeping the flag in place at the Sutherlin Mansion.
“We keep an eye on heritage violations around the state and the South,” Hathaway said. “As the Last Capital of the Confederacy [the mansion] kind of belongs to all of us; we feel strongly that [the Confederate flag] should stay.”
Dry Fork resident Vernell Gwynn, president of the Anne Eliza Johns Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said she too was at the meeting to show support for keeping the flag in place.
Gwynn said her group was responsible for helping save the Sutherlin Mansion back in 1912, providing $20,000 to the city to purchase and save it; the city paid the other half of the cost, saving it from being torn down.
“We need to preserve this,” Johns said.
By the time council members walked out of their closed meeting and entered council chambers for the regular meeting, every seat was taken — mostly by people holding Confederate flags.
For the better part of an hour, eight people spoke out against removing the flag.
Barry Eisenhauer, a member of the Virginia Flaggers and Sons of Confederate Veterans, said trying to cover up history is a mistake.
“When you start picking and choosing pieces of history, you’re lying to your children,” Eisenhauer said.
Wayne Byrd of the Heritage Preservation Association — the organization that maintains the Confederate monument on the museum lawn — said his organization would replace the marker that read simply “Confederate Memorial,” that disappeared when the public library moved out of the building the museum moved in.
“Without a sign out there, there is some confusion about why the memorial and flag are there,” Byrd said.
Royce Agee, commander of the Danville chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, also spoke in favor of keeping the flag in place and avoiding any court action.
“How about having a meeting and talking it out before we go to court,” Agee asked.
Two people also spoke in favor of removing the flag, Petrina Carter and Missy Neff Gould.
“If it discourages even one person from moving to Danville, I think it should come down,” Gould said.
Other council items
During its regular meeting Tuesday, Danville City Council voted to:
» Adopt an ordinance accepting $22,213 from the United States Department of Justice for purchasing mobile devices for police officers;
» Rezone property at 139 Watson St. from neighborhood commercial to conditional highway retail commercial so owner Ricky Miles can operate an automobile dealership there;
» Deny rezoning property at 1412 Goodyear Boulevard/201 Piney Road from suburban residential to light economic development; a change was requested by owners Willie and Clara Bowe who said they felt it would be easier to sell with the zoning change. Notices were sent out to neighbors about the request and responses were all opposed. Danville Planning Commission voted 6-0 to deny the request.
» Apply to the Virginia Department of Transportation for money to extend the Riverwalk Trail along the north bank of the Dan River from Advance Street to Sandy River.
» Approved repaying $2 million to the Tobacco Commission for the incentive grants the commission awarded to Web Parts and GOK International. The city has filed law suits against both companies seeking reimbursement of the money.
» Accept additional grant money from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to complete the bridge over Sandy Creek on the Riverwalk Trail;
» Extend its franchise agreement with Comcast until Jan. 5; and
» Increased Danville Utilities’ power cost adjustment account from $2 million to $20 million; this will not cause a rate increase or involve extra debt, but it will allow the account to “under collect” while the utility pays off high congestion charges last winter, stranded costs from an energy plant that wasn’t built and undercharging customers for power for the past several years.