Controversy over Confederate symbols comes to Jefferson County

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All across the country, Confederate monuments and symbols have become more controversial, after the recent violence in Charlottesville.
 
In the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, one such symbol is in the spotlight. A plaque outside the Jefferson County Courthouse honors the memory of soldiers from Jefferson County, who fought for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
 
But a group of African-American women, some of whom are direct descendants of Charles Town slaves, want it taken down.
 
“We understand that there are those that stand for states’ rights,” said Linda Downing Ballard, a Charles Town native who now lives in Martinsburg. “We are here to stand for human rights.”
 
Ballard and the group came before the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday, arguing that the plaque is disrespectful to those who fought on the Union side. They also said it should not be visible at a place that’s supposed to be welcoming to all people.
 
“Why is it on the courthouse, and why was it put there in 1986…121 years after the Civil War?” Ballard asked.
 
But people on the other side of the issue made their voices heard.
 
“They’re veterans, they deserve respect. They’ve earned it,” said Brian Tolstyka, of Falling Waters.
 
“If they get their way with this little plaque, they will be back…looking for something bigger,” added Gary Dungan, of Harpers Ferry. “It will never end, unless you end it here today.”
 
A clear majority of the commission was against the request to take it down.
 
“This county itself is named after Thomas Jefferson,” said Commissioner Josh Compton. “Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. Is it going to get to the point where we should revisit the name of the county? Where does it stop?”
 
“Instead of trying to erase history, we need to tell more of the history,” added Commissioner Patricia Noland.
 
In a unanimous vote, the County Commission decided to leave the plaque untouched. However, in a second motion, members voted 4-1 to establish a citizen committee. That group would be tasked with examining how to best address plaques at the courthouse, including whether to possibly add ones dedicated to Union soldiers and Jefferson County slaves.

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