RICHMOND City and state officials yesterday condemned the vandalism of a public portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, but one City Council member said the banner burned beyond recovery on Monday should not be replaced.
“I would say if you put it back up, you are inviting another act of vandalism,” said Sa’ad El-Amin, a council member who last summer threatened a boycott, calling Lee’s legacy offensive to black residents.
Still, Mr. El-Amin did call the portrait’s burning “thuggish.”
Others, however, went much further.
“This is more than that. I consider it a hate crime,” said Brag Bowling, a state official for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “It’s certainly symbolic, and because of that, I think it takes on larger aspects.”
Mr. Bowling and his fellow members will rally at 2 p.m. today, calling on city officials to do more to protect not only Lee and Confederate monuments, but all city monuments. He said much of the city’s income from tourists comes from those who want to see Confederate history.
Later in the day, the Sons and other Confederate heritage groups will commemorate the birthday of Robert E. Lee, born Jan. 19, 1807, with a ceremony in the old House chambers, where a statue of the general stands. They plan to call for more education on Southern and Confederate heritage so all Virginians can see why Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Lee, considered honorable Virginians by many, deserve recognition.
Police are investigating it as vandalism, although they and most city leaders stopped short of calling it a hate crime as some heritage advocates urged. No arrests had been made as of last night.
The decision on whether to replace the Lee portrait is up to the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation, which operates the outdoor gallery on a downtown floodwall. The chairman of the foundation was in New York on a business trip and was scheduled to return today.
Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine yesterday also condemned the burning.
“I certainly don’t think we can condone vandalism in any shape or form,” Mr. Gilmore said.
Virginia’s celebration of Lee-Jackson-King Day Monday, which honors Martin Luther King and Confederate Gens. Lee and Jackson, may have been the last in state history following the governor’s call last week for a separate holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. Mr. Gilmore may announce the details of his proposal today.
Plans call for King Day to remain the third Monday of January, close to his actual birthday and in line with the holiday recognized by the federal government and many businesses. Lee-Jackson day would be moved to the second Friday in January, just days before the King holiday.
“The effort here is not only to end the confusion but to give a special honor unique to Reverend King,” Mr. Gilmore said yesterday.
Though the governor has promised to find the money estimated anywhere from $2 million to $10 million for state employees to have a second holiday off, it’s questionable whether schools and businesses would follow suit, especially so close to the winter holidays. If that is the case, officials must then choose which holiday state workers will have off.
Heritage groups fear Virginia history might be lost if the governor gets his way and separates the holidays.
The two lawmakers who will likely sponsor the bill, Delegate William P. Robinson Jr., Norfolk Democrat, and Terri L. Suit, Virginia Beach Republican, both have said it’s a decision for local officials to make.
Mrs. Suit said she hopes that in Virginia, heritage-conscious as many residents are, schools find a way to honor the men.
Mr. Bowling, for his part, said moving the day can’t leave Lee and Jackson any less noticed than they already are.
“It’s pretty much ignored right now. What’s the difference?” he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.