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Roanoke County judge orders removal of Confederate monument

If it is to properly administer justice, either the historic Roanoke County Courthouse building must move, or else the Confederate monument out front should go, according to the order of a circuit court judge.

“The lesser hardship of these two options” is the removal of the Confederate monument, wrote Judge Charles Dorsey in an order from Roanoke County Circuit Court, dated July 8. “Any inconvenience in accomplishing this goal is small compared to the rights involved in the administration of justice.”

Roanoke County’s Board of Supervisors is now charged to act on the statue, which depicts a Confederate infantryman. The board is aware of the order, said Chairman Jason Peters during a phone call Monday.

“We want to evaluate all of our options before we make our decision,” Peters said. “All of us, as board members, have received much more support for the monument than against it.”

United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument in 1909, according to an etching on the back. The infantryman stands about 18 feet above street-level on the corner of Salem’s Main Street and College Avenue, located outside the historic Roanoke County Courthouse that opened in 1910, according to a county spokesperson.

“Ultimately this is a monument for the people of Roanoke County... we need to do our due diligence,” Peters said. “There was some conversation started, maybe in 2019. Of course, then COVID hit and all conversations about everything stopped.”

Roanoke College now uses the old courthouse, adjacent to the current one, for business, economics, public affairs, religion and philosophy classes. The college has offered to fund the statue’s relocation, but it rests on a county easement that requires board approval to move.

“If we’re forced to remove the statue, I still think that the majority of us want to have something in place to say the historical meaning of that spot,” Peters said. “It’s a very significant spot, because that is truly where soldiers came to sign up, at that that very spot, and many of those soldiers came from Roanoke College.”

Dorsey's Confederate Monument Order

Regardless, the public will need involvement in the decision-making process, either by way of a hearing or a referendum, said Roanoke County Attorney Peter Lubeck during a phone call Monday. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources is expected to release guidelines for contextualizing statues and monuments sometime in September, in response to a state law changed in April 2020, he added.

“In our society we are plagued by intolerance of opposing viewpoints,” Lubeck said. “While people do have strong opinions regarding monuments, I think what the board hopes to achieve — through whatever course of action it chooses — is to do its best to achieve unity.”

The court will not take further formal action on the statue until Jan. 2, 2022, according to the order. But in an attached letter that Dorsey penned to Peters dated June 23, he urged hasty removal of the stonework, for the sake of judicial optics.

“There is a legal, intellectual, and moral imperative to move this statue with all deliberate speed,” Dorsey wrote.

In his letter to Peters, Dorsey said no one would suggest a Confederate flag or monument has any place in a courtroom.

“The meaning conveyed by this statue due to its proximity to the Roanoke County Courthouse and being on Roanoke County property is, likewise, completely antithetical to the proper administration of justice,” Dorsey wrote. It matters not who is offended; “it only matters that this monument’s message, in its present location, is offensive to the appearance of judicial fairness and neutrality, without a hint of prejudice.”

Citing several historians, Dorsey noted slavery was, by a wide margin, unquestionably the primary cause of the Civil War. Confederate monuments are “tied to the mythology of the Lost Cause — the way many white Americans have chosen to view history following the Civil War,” Dorsey wrote.

Dorsey, who attended Roanoke County Public Schools, said even though it is more often than not frustrating, he is proud of the innate stubbornness Southern people have on matters near and dear to them. But that stubbornness must yield to reason and conscience, he wrote:

“In order to make this part of the judicial system of Virginia more legitimate to all of those whom we serve, this small statue with its large, ugly message must be removed.”

'Born newsman' Frosty Landon remembered for Roanoke career

Forrest Landon was born to be a newspaperman. As a 10-year-old in Sidney, New York, he wrote, published and sold advertisements for The Sidney Flash, his very own newspaper that he peddled on the streets.

Later, he went to an elite journalism school and embarked upon a news career that spanned four decades, all of it in Roanoke. And somewhere along the way, Forrest became “Frosty,” which is how everybody knew him.

Forrest “Frosty” Landon, longtime editor of the Roanoke Times & World-News, as the paper was then called, died Monday, according to Beth Macy, his niece-in-law and former Roanoke Times reporter. He was 87.

“He was a born newsman,” said George Kegley, a journalist at The Roanoke Times from 1949 to 1993.

In a 40-year career, Landon pulled off a hat trick in Roanoke news reporting, working in radio, television and newspapers. When he started with the locally owned Times-World Corp. in 1955, the company had a good-sized monopoly in Roanoke’s media. After Norfolk-based Landmark Communications bought it in 1969, the TV and radio stations were sold, and Landon remained a newspaperman the rest of his career.

During his time as executive editor of The Roanoke Times (which was also called the Roanoke Times & World-News for most of his career as newsroom boss), the newspaper was a three-time finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

Landon never fully left journalism even after his retirement in 1995. A year later, he co-founded the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and served as its first director. The nonprofit group worked to make citizens aware of government transparency and open records laws, and to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. For years, Landon drove a Volvo with a license plate that read, “OPEN GOV.”

He worked with the late Clifton “Chip” Woodrum, who represented Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1980 to 2003, to push for the General Assembly to create the Freedom of Information Advisory Council in 2000 to oversee the application of the state’s open records and meetings laws.

“What he did for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government was nothing short of heroic,” said Megan Rhyne, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Rhyne said Landon was skilled at securing grant money, including one substantial grant that has allowed for VCOG to be one of the few state open government coalitions to have an endowment and be able to have a full-time employee.

“What he’s done for open government is that while there are always going to be challenges and those who don’t embrace open government, he’s allowed us to be consistently present for all this time,” Rhyne said. “Whether it’s me or others, people see us and hear us. They may not vote our way or agree with us, but they knew we were there and respect us.”

Landon, a native of Sidney, New York, was 22 years old and just out of the University of Missouri’s journalism school when he came to Roanoke in 1955 to work at WDBJ-TV the day the station went on the air. At the time, WDBJ was owned by Times-World Corp., the same privately held company that owned the two daily newspapers, The Roanoke Times and the afternoon World-News. Times-World also owned the WDBJ radio station. Landon soon moved from television to become the radio station’s news director.

The late Ben Beagle, a longtime Roanoke Times reporter and columnist, once described Landon’s broadcast style as “a sturdy Cronkite-like delivery coming from a short, aggressive kid from upstate New York.” Landon covered major events in Roanoke that included John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign appearance at the Woodrum Field airport.

“It was midway through my god-awful radio career,” Landon told Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey in 2013. He recalled that the interview was broadcast live. “I was the only one interviewing him. Here’s this young whippersnapper reporter from Roanoke sticking a microphone in his face. The newspaper reporter, Charlie Cox, was behind me, listening. … I can’t remember what the hell I asked him or what he said. I wish I could remember the questions. They must have been really good ones.”

Landon also covered the integration of Southwest Virginia’s schools in the early 1960s. When Floyd County High School integrated in 1960, school officials banished reporters from interviewing Black students. Landon, working for the radio station, and a newspaper reporter tailed a school bus and interviewed a Black student in her home.

For several years, the television and radio stations operated out of The Roanoke Times building at 201 Campbell Ave., where Landon could mingle with the print side of the business. He made the switch to newspapers in 1962, working as an editorial writer, editorial page editor, associate news editor and eventually becoming managing editor — essentially the second-in-command in the newsroom — in 1979.

He became the executive editor of what was then called the Roanoke Times & World-News in 1982 when he succeeded Ben Bowers, who took a job in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“Frosty liked to play the hardhearted, irascible boss — Mr. Dithers come to life in a bow tie,” said Mary Bishop, a former Roanoke Times reporter. “Though he tussled with us ambitious young reporters over news coverage, he usually gave in.”

Bishop said Landon served as a “historical anchor in the history of the newspaper.” He joined the newspaper when it was locally owned by the Fishburn family and there was a morning and afternoon edition. He stayed when Norfolk-based Landmark Communications made them part of its newspaper chain in 1969.

“Because he was at the paper in the old days, he took heat from contemporaries who’d been political leaders during the Jim Crow years,” Bishop said. “They’d squawk to him whenever we reporters wrote about their long-ago stances, but Frosty stood up for us, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.”

In 1979, Landon wrote a first-person account of his cancer treatment after doctors discovered he had a rare case of lymphoma. The lengthy article chronicled an odyssey through doctors’ appointments, incorrect initial diagnoses, radiation treatments and cancer drugs.

“It is not an expose, because there is nothing to expose,” Landon wrote. “It is not the story of personal courage, because I am not particularly courageous — and because it’s a story — with a little bit of luck — that will have a happy ending.”

Near the end of the article, he wrote: “Firm conclusion after all this: Most nurses are underpaid, overdedicated to their tasks. Tentative conclusion after all this: Doctors aren’t — although that harsh judgment surely will change if I’m cured.”

Landon survived the cancer and continued to lead the newsroom.

Landon was the newspaper’s executive editor until 1995, having overseen the closing of the afternoon edition in 1991 and the name change back to The Roanoke Times a few months before he retired. Landon was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame in 1997.

In addition to Landon’s contributions in journalism, his daughter, Tracy, said he was a great patron of the arts in the Roanoke Valley and cared about helping those less fortunate.

He is survived by his wife, son and daughter and their spouses, and three grandchildren.

“He was a significant mentor and father to others, and not just his family,” his daughter said.

Roanoke City Council votes to rename Lee Plaza for Henrietta Lacks and freedom

Lee Plaza, the public space beside the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building with colorful plantings and war memorials, will be renamed, the Roanoke City Council decided Monday.

The west half, where a man deliberately pulled down a marker recognizing Robert E. Lee last summer, will be renamed for Henrietta Lacks. Lacks, a Roanoke native who passed away in 1951, is the source of the first immortal human cell line — an extraordinary research platform on which major medical advances occurred.

The east half of the plaza location with the flag-bordered Roanoke Valley War Memorial and monuments bearing the names of war dead, will become Freedom Plaza.

No time frame was released as to when the new names might be in place. Next steps include fashioning signs. Those who say recognition of Lacks is long overdue support bringing in a bust or statue of her.

Lee Plaza has been called Lee Plaza since 1957. The council at that time named the plaza in honor of the Confederate general. A 10-foot Lee marker was added in 1960.

Last summer, police found the marker down and in pieces after the council began a process to remove the monument through city action. A man is awaiting trial on a criminal monument destruction charge.

After the Lee monument was damaged and removed, the council began efforts to rename the plaza. It sought advice from Roanoke’s Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board, which on Monday referred two suggestions the committee said were widely popular in the community: Henrietta Lacks Plaza and Star City Plaza. The Star City name didn’t make the council’s cut, but Freedom Plaza, submitted by Councilman Bill Bestpitch, did.

Mayor Sherman Lea favored naming the whole plaza after Lacks, noting her singular place in medical history. “The cells were different. They were special. They could reproduce outside the body,” he said.

Numerous organizations and individuals across the country maintain tributes to Lacks, who is the subject of books, exhibits, a movie, a Wikipedia page and a charitable foundation. Roanoke, where she lived until she was 4, does not honor Lacks with any kind of public display.

‘Shock and sadness’ still fresh for Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente with suspended player facing murder charge

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente has experienced some joyful moments this summer.

The team has received a steady dose of good news on the recruiting trail where rarely a week goes by without Tech adding names to its 2022 signing class. The Hokies most recently landed a pair of high profile in-state recruits — running back Ramon Brown and offensive lineman Gunner Givens — to give them a top 15 nationally ranked class.

There was a recent family vacation where Fuente got to visit with relatives back home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he also escaped to Smith Mountain Lake to get time on the water with his daughters.

But inevitably Fuente’s mind goes back to Ismemen David Etute, the 18-year-old suspended Tech linebacker who was charged with the second-degree murder of Jerry Paul Smith on June 2.

“Every idle moment that we or I have, my mind immediately drifts to it,” Fuente said, on Monday. “Knowing him and knowing his family, the situation as a whole there’s a victim and a victim’s family. Every time you get a second to take a deep breath and aren’t immediately focused on recruiting or fall schedule, my mind immediately drifts to it.”

Tech’s media relations department handled the university’s public response after Etute was arrested and charged in June. The university announced Etute’s suspension and encouraged anyone with information about the case to contact investigators.

Before he had to catch a flight to Richmond for a scheduled appearance at a Hokie Club event, Fuente sat down with The Roanoke Times in his office at the Jamerson Center to publicly discuss Etute’s arrest for the first time.

The intervening month has done little to change the “shock and sadness” Fuente said he felt when Tech athletic director Whit Babcock came to his office June 2 to tell him about Etute’s arrest and the charge the player is facing.

“It was by far the worst day of over 20 years of coaching,” Fuente said.

Coverage of the arrest of suspended Virginia Tech football player Isimemen David Etute in the death of Jerry Paul Smith

Fuente worked quickly to put together a meeting to address the team, and the staff spent the rest of the day reaching out to each player’s family. He addressed the situation head on, and has taken the same approach with recruits visiting campus.

Etute has since been released on a $75,000 secured bond into the custody of his parents, who reside in Virginia Beach.

Montgomery County prosecutors revealed details of the case during a June 9 bond hearing based on statements Etute made to the police.

Etute visited the victim’s apartment April 10 for oral sex after he was matched up with someone named “Angie” on Tinder, a dating app. Etute returned to the apartment May 31 to engage in sexual activity and discovered the person he was matched up with was a man.

Etute left Smith “bubbling and gurgling” on the ground after punching the victim five times and stomping on him before leaving the Main Street apartment, according to the prosecution’s summary.

The police have yet to identify the pair of individuals Etute was with walking up to Smith’s apartment, and Fuente declined to discuss if either of those individuals were members of the football team. Tech team spokesperson Pete Moris confirmed that no other players on the team’s online roster are currently suspended.

“I won’t comment on anything about that,” Fuente said. “We’ve taken all our cues from the authorities on how we have handled everything.”

Montgomery County Commonwealth’s attorney Mary Pettitt has declined comment on whether any additional individuals could face charges in relation to the incident.

Fuente said he wasn’t interviewed by the police about the case, and hasn’t been contacted about testifying. He has been in contact with Etute and his parents, and will continue to be available to the family to talk.

“Absolutely, 100%,” Fuente said. “We signed on to be coaches during the bad days too. I’m not going to insert myself into areas that I shouldn’t be, but in terms of talking to him and his mom and dad, we’ve done that.”

He’s also had emotional conversations with freshmen on the team who grew close to Etute during his brief time on campus.

Fuente said a handful of players are having a “difficult” time processing the news, and the staff has made themselves available to discuss it. They have also made sure players know about all the avenues they have to receive additional professional help on campus, but Fuente admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Tech is set to start fall camp in two weeks, and Fuente acknowledged Etute’s trial could cast a shadow over the season. Etute’s next court appearance is a preliminary hearing scheduled for September 23 two days before Tech is scheduled to play Richmond at Lane Stadium.

“It’s completely out of my realm,” Fuente said, of the legal proceedings.

He will prepare his team for whatever comes, but Fuente anticipates each new development will bring with it a fresh wave of sorrow for everyone involved.