MAXWELL: Virginia won’t let the Old Confederacy die 

3/10/2004 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Enlightenment is having a hard time taking root in the South, especially in Virginia, where folks will not let the Old Confederacy die, where “Surrender Hell!” is still the battle cry in most parts.

The major group that keeps the Old Confederacy _ spell that Civil War _ alive is the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group is campaigning to officially establish April as Confederate History and Heritage Month in all of Virginia. So far, the old Rebs are doing pretty well. At last count, 16 county, city and town governments, mostly in the southern regions, have approved the resolution.

Supporters argue that the month-long celebration would be “educational.” Brag Bowling, Virginia division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Something that teaches about the history of our state, how could that be bad?”

Well, if history were all the celebration would be about, few people, even the blacks with whom I spoke, would have a problem with it. But those who know the history of the Sons of Confederate Veterans are cautious. I was struck by the number of former members of the organization who reject the notion of celebrating Confederate heritage.

“Although I have much empathy for the individuals seeking the resolution, some of whom are very close friends, I find it difficult to support anything that places the war in any other light but a neutral viewpoint of all the facts involved,” Bob Wilcox, a Powhatan County resident and a member of the Powhatan Civil War Roundtable, wrote in a statement.

Wilcox and other members of the Civil War Roundtable focus on research, and have rejected other campaigns that glorify the Confederacy _ an institution that embraced slavery, profited from it and went to war to defend it.

Karl Lipscomb, president of the Powhatan Chapter of the NAACP, was unequivocal in his objection to the celebration: “I don’t feel it’s a good thing to have. Why bring up a lot of bad feelings?”

The Times-Dispatch reported the results of a recent poll of 600 Virginia voters conducted by Conquest Communications Group for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The majority supported the resolution. Blacks mostly opposed it.

John Easley, a Henrico County black voter, sees the resolution as a slap in the face of African-Americans: “These old white guys who’re still fighting the Civil War got together and decided to mock Black History Month. They said, “Hey, if they can have their month, let’s have a Confederate History and Heritage Month.’ It’s like wearing a Rebel flag T-shirt to a school where you have black kids. These people don’t fool anybody. They lost the war and refuse to accept it.”

Another issue on the racial enlightenment front in Virginia is a bill introduced in the state General Assembly to create a scholarship fund for the descendants of black students who were deprived of public school education in the state from 1959-1964. Instead of complying with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. Board of Education case banning segregation, Virginia shut down its public schools.

Blacks, my relatives included, were forced to travel to other states to attend school. A move to allocate $2-million in seed money to establish the fund faces an uphill battle in a state that will not let the Old Confederacy die.

Thousands of black children had to attend school in their churches, living rooms and beneath trees because Virginia’s whites did not want their children in the presence of blacks. I do not believe that reparations for slavery is a viable project, but I do believe that Virginia owes monetary and other payments to the descendants of those legally deprived of public education during those six years.

The governor has given lip service to the scholarship fund, but he has been short on substantive action, which, in turn, has encouraged other lawmakers to drag their feet.

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the state’s first and only black governor, has been working to make the scholarship fund a reality. He has been using his newspaper column as his bully pulpit. He is disappointed, but not surprised, that Gov. Mark Warner can find millions for other projects but is having trouble finding seed money for the scholarship fund.

Time and again, whites chastise blacks for focusing too much on race. Perhaps these whites are right. But I have yet to hear a white person explain why blacks should pretend that race crimes _ such Virginia’s shutdown of its public schools _ did not occur and did not cause enduring harm.