Controversy at the Fairfax County Courthouse

FAIRFAX, VA — On 1 June 1861, John Quincy Marr died some 800 feet from this marker at the old Fairfax County Courthouse, becoming the first Confederate soldier to be killed in action in the American Civil War.

Nearly 160 years later, a historical monument marking the event has become the subject of local controversy amid widespread criticism of monuments to Confederates and slave owners, which many claim glorify racists.

On 21 June, two local citizens affiliated with activist group Reston Strong protested this monument by wrapping it in black plastic and duct tape. In a recent Instagram post, they demanded that those in charge of the monument "remove, relocate, and replace" it "with one that gives historical context without glorifying racism".

The controversy surrounding this piece of stone is particularly interesting because its status is neither solely that of a racist monument nor a historical marker. It was erected in 1904 "to honor Capt. John Quincy Marr," by the Marr Camp, C.V. "C.V." likely refers to "Confederate Veterans," and the date coincides both with the 43rd anniversary of Marr's death and the rise of Confederate monuments in the United States.

Although the monument was likely built to glorify a Confederate soldier at a time when race relations in America were growing more and more tense, it does mark a genuinely important historical moment. However, it does so with some rather significant inaccuracies. The monument states that "this stone marks the opening conflict of the war of 1861-1865." This statement is incorrect, as though a number of possible interpretations for the opening conflict of the Civil War exist, they all take place before the Battle of Fairfax Court House. It also claims that John Quincy Marr was "the first soldier killed in action," which is similarly inaccurate - though he was the first Confederate soldier killed in action, he was certainly not the first soldier killed in the American Civil War.

All of this may seem pretty damning evidence in favor of removing the stone; however, the racism that likely led to this monument's creation is itself an important part of our history. The protestors' call to "remove, relocate, and replace" this monument is not the only way forwards; other possibilities include ideas such as erecting a large plaque next to the monument that corrects its historical inaccuracies and acknowledges the racist history of Confederate monuments in America.

Regardless, it is likely that this monument will be brought up at the next Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, on Tuesday 23 June 2020. It will certainly be a story to watch, and may provide insight in the conversation about history, and acknowledgement of American racism without glorification.

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