- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

The Confederate flag brouhaha, like the War Between the States erupted first in South Carolina, but maybe it was inevitable that the battle would spread to Virginia.
Virginia, the heart of the Confederacy and a state that draws millions of tourists each year to its battle sites, is next up on the target list of those who are angered by the South's reverence for the past, for history, and for symbols of the Confederacy.
At the urging of national NAACP leaders, the Virginia NAACP, not satisfied with Black History Month, vows now to take a stronger stand against the commonwealth's annual designation of April as Confederate History Month.
Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, will meet May 10 with Gov. James S. Gilmore III to talk about that and a few other issues.
Richmond City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, who led the campaign last year to erase a portrait of Robert E. Lee on a city-sponsored mural, now demands that Monument Avenue, a street through the city's historic district, with statues of Confederate war heroes, be "privatized."
"Monument Avenue is on my list of targets," Mr. El-Amin said in a telephone interview. Mr. El-Amin, who won re-election to the city council Tuesday, says he'll make ending public support for the historic avenue, which draws thousands of tourists a year, a priority for the council in the next two years.
"We have to dismantle this whole Confederate infrastructure because it glorifies slavery," Mr. El-Amin said.
Mr. El-Amin and the state NAACP leadership represent a change a renewed focus on Confederate symbols and a focus on boycotting and demonstrations.
"The difference is in in terms of people like myself and Salim Khalfani, who are not your typical 'Negro mentality' that winks and nods at these things and allows them to exist without protest," Mr. El-Amin said.
That became clear in the debate over Confederate History Month, which Mr. Gilmore declares every April. When the discussion first arose in March, Mr. Khalfani said the NAACP, which has had declining membership in recent years, wouldn't make an issue of it. That all changed after a regional NAACP conference, where members from around the state said it was time to renew protests, and the national officials agreed.
Now, Mr. Khalfani says he wants the governor to promise not to issue the proclamation again. "Anything less is unacceptable," he said.
Some activists attribute the renewed focus on symbols of the Confederacy to Baltimore's Kwiesi Mfume, president of the NAACP.
"With our new president and CEO there comes a new charge. He is more proactive and therefore that encourages everyone else to be proactive," said Jasper Hendricks, president of the NAACP's Virginia youth and college division.
Other leaders, including younger, ambitious black politicians, say there are other reasons to focus on history that makes them uncomfortable.
"I don't think it's as much a change of strategy, it's really been a matter of political maturity in the African-American community," says Emmitt Carlton, former president of the Virginia NAACP who is now the regional coordinator for Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Earlier this year, the Richmond City Council, with a black majority, changed the names of two city bridges, erasing the names of Confederate generals to commemorate civil rights leaders. The Lee mural was firebombed during the Lee-Jackson-King celebration this year, and the portrait was replaced over the objections of some civil rights activists. Last year, the Virginia legislature rejected an application by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to put their logo, which includes the Confederate battle flag, on their specialty license plates.
Mr. Gilmore's proclamation of Confederate History Month an annual declaration, which makes the ritual denunciation of slavery and recognizes the sacrifices of the men who died in defense of the South, set off the current controversy.
David Duke, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who is the founder of the National Organization for European-American Rights, has made several appearances in Virginia, including one to try to break the black community's boycott of a Chesterfield County shopping mall over that county's declaration of Confederate History Month.
Several defenders of the commemoration of Virginia history say the NAACP strategy will backfire when the group or others try to eliminate a symbol too dear to the hearts of Virginians who have so far, from a sense of manners, overlooked the protests.
"I think in Virginia it may be Monument Avenue. It may be something like that, because that's something Virginians feel very close to," says Susan Whitacre, president of the Virginia division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman who is also a history professor at the University of Virginia, said going after Confederate symbols diverts attention from other issues. "One bad thing about these fights is they push out of the public arena other things we do," he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide