A Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter says it wants to help preserve land at Booker T. Washington National Monument.
By Mason Adams
The Roanoke Times
One of America’s largest Civil War heritage groups has offered to help Franklin County’s black community try to preserve land around Booker T. Washington National Monument.
The Fincastle Rifles, a chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, met with alumni from the now-closed Booker T. Washington school last week to offer their assistance. They’ve since bought ad space in a Franklin County newspaper for a resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on development around the monument to give preservation groups time to try to purchase adjoining land.
"Its part of Virginia’s history, it’s part of Franklin County’s history, it’s part of Southern history," said Robert "Red" Barbour, commander of the Fincastle Rifles. "I’d heard Booker T. donated some money to the monument for Confederate soldiers. I said if he could do that then we could support what they’re doing to try and protect his home."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a historic preservation group founded in 1896. The organization consists of chapters from across the southern United States. Members are all descendants of Confederate soldiers who were honorably discharged from service.
Walter Starkey, a member of the Booker T. Washington alumni, said he’s delighted that the Fincastle Rifles have offered to help.
"They came aboard and are just willing to go to bat for us in some way," Starkey said. "I was very happy with it because it will help break down racial barriers. I thought it was great. I welcomed them wholeheartedly."
A public hearing for a proposed mixed-use commercial development on 57 acres adjoining the east side of the monument brought more than 150 people to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting in July. Just as many people returned in August to watch the board vote 6-1 to approve a rezoning request to make the development possible.
The county has targeted Westlake, where the monument is located, for commercial development. The county also intends to provide water and eventually sewer to the area, so the board may face future requests for development projects around the park.
"We’re looking to the bigger picture, to protect around the whole park," Starkey said.
Boone Supervisor David Hurt, who voted against the rezoning, said he doesn’t think the board of supervisors has votes or the legal authority to approve a development moratorium around Booker T. Washington National Monument. However, he welcomed the involvement by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, saying it may spur more interest in historic preservation.
Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, heralded the alliance as a major step toward reconciling old divisions that date to the 19th century.
"What those two groups have in common is a respect for heritage," Ware said. "The Sons have the right to respect their Confederate heritage as Franklin County African-Americans have a right to respect theirs. It’s enlightening that those two groups have set aside their differences, so to speak, to focus on what they have in common."
In a letter to the Booker T. Washington alumni, Ware wrote that the Sons of Confederate Veterans have extended an olive branch, and "I want to say that I accept it and I extend one back."
"We face a monumental task, but I know that if we all come together, we can beat back the face of relentless development around the Booker T. Washington National Monument and ensure that a proper buffer zone is established," Ware wrote.
The Fincastle Rifles already are involved in the preservation of another Franklin County historic site, the Jubal Early homeplace near Windy Gap, just off Virginia 116 on Old Hollow Lane.