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In first meeting, subcommittee tackles Confederate monuments, building in Danville

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Harry Wooding

A statue of Harry Wooding stands in front of Danville's Municipal Building. Wooding fought for the Confederate Army from 1863-65 during the Civil War. Wooding once held the record for serving the longest continuous time as mayor in the U.S. at 46 years, from 1892 to 1938.

The city has formed a subcommittee to address concerns about Confederate monuments and buildings named after Confederate figures. 

The three-member Mayor's Subcommittee on Monuments met for the first time Wednesday afternoon in the Municipal Building and focused on the Harry Wooding statue located on the building's front steps and the Stonewall Therapeutic Center in North Danville. 

The facility is named after Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, the Confederate general.

Wooding fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was, until recently, the longest serving mayor of any city in the United States. He was mayor of Danville from 1892 to 1938. 

At some point, the subcommittee will hear from local historical advisors, vote and then make a recommendation to Danville City Council on what to do about monuments and building it discusses, said Vice Mayor Gary Miller, who heads the subcommittee.

"The full council has to make the final call," Miller told members of the subcommittee, which includes City Councilmen Barry Mayo and Sam Kushner. 

Historical advisors to the subcommittee include Elsabe Dixon, executive director of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, and Preservation Virginia Field Services Manager Sonja Ingram. 

They would do historical research on the monuments and buildings and provide information to the subcommittee about why they were erected.  

Tommy Bennett, the head of the Danville branch of the NAACP wants to remove the names of Woodrow Wilson Intermediate School and O.T. Bonner Middle School and see Mayor Harry Wooding's statue gone.

"I want this to happen now," Bennett told the Danville Register & Bee in July.

Such a question would be in the hands of the school board, Miller told the subcommittee.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, served as the 28th president of the United States from 1913-21. 

A request to remove the Wooding statue and change the name of Stonewall Therapeutic Center would be under Danville City Council.

The city-owned facility used to be Stonewall Jackson Elementary School.

"I can't understand why they named it after a Confederate general who never lived here," Miller said. 

The Rev. William Avon Keen, leader of the Danville chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has requested the name of the facility be changed. 

As for the Wooding statue, subcommittee members said they want to find out why it was put up before deciding what to do about it. Is it in recognition of his service as mayor, or for fighting for the Confederacy?

"I want to learn more," Mayo said during an interview after the meeting. 

"If we don't remove the entire statue, can we just change the wording?" Miller said during the meeting. "To me, it depends on the context of why it was put up." 

The removal of statues of Confederate figures and changing of school names have increased amid Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, and other related incidents.

Members also expressed interest in flying a state or city flag on the flag pole that used to fly the Third National flag of the Confederacy until it was removed from the museum's lawn by the city in 2015.

The Heritage Preservation Association maintained the flag and the pole when it flew the flag. 

Dixon asked if the museum — since the city owns the flag pole — would be able to solicit other groups to take care of the flag pole if a state or city flag is erected on it — just in case the association refused to take care of it. 

"If I were you, I'd have a discussion with the city manager about that," City Attorney Clarke Whitfield told Dixon. 

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