- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

RICHMOND Black members of the House of Delegates who unanimously voted to recite a pledge to the Virginia flag before each day's session now say they are offended by the tribute, after learning it was written by a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Those opposed to the "Salute to the Flag of Virginia" say it invokes an era of segregation in Virginia because the pledge first adopted by the General Assembly in 1954 is the same one used by members of the Virginia chapter of the UDC to open their meetings. It was written by a UDC member in 1946.
The 30-word salute reads: "I salute the flag of Virginia, with reverence and patriotic devotion to the 'Mother of States and Statesmen,' which it represents the 'Old Dominion,' where liberty and independence were born."
Ten of the 15 members of the Legislative Black Caucus met for an hour-and-45-minute, closed-door session last night to discuss their options. House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, also attended the meeting, and expressed confidence that the issue would be resolved.
Caucus Chairman Mary T. Christian, Hampton Democrat, said she would probably still not recite the pledge today, even though she acknowledged voting for it. Other members of the caucus have indicated they will not recite the pledge either, as some did not yesterday.
"We were caught [up] in the patriotism of the moment," Miss Christian said. The caucus is supposed to meet again this morning and decide what, if any, action they will take on the floor of the House. A compromise could also be reached by then, and Miss Christian said she does not want the controversy to go beyond this week. But all 34 House Democrats may walk out as a sign of unity, sources said, if the Black Caucus decides to do so.
On the first day of the General Assembly last Wednesday, Delegate Robert F. McDonnell proposed that the House open its day with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, and the pledge to the state flag. In a voice vote, the measure was approved and adopted as part of the House's rules.
Even the next day, black lawmakers amid the 100-member body cheered after both pledges were recited. It was not until an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealed the origins of the pledge that some lawmakers complained.
Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr. said yesterday he will not say the state pledge anymore, though he does not have a problem with the wording. It is the origins of the pledge that bothers him.
"Don't keep bringing up stuff from the past," said Mr. Spruill, Chesapeake Democrat. "Things have changed now. Let's not keep rubbing it in."
Other black Democrats say they do have a problem with the wording of the salute.
Delegate Dwight Clinton Jones, Richmond Democrat, according to press accounts, said even the phrase "Old Dominion" is unsettling to him.
There is a state school called Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and the organization for black lawyers is called the Old Dominion Bar Association.
Delegate Winsome E. Sears of Norfolk, the House's only black Republican, said she believes those making a fuss over the state pledge are making "much ado about nothing."
"Words are words. They mean different things to different people," said Mrs. Sears, who was not present at yesterday's meeting. "Now is not the time to find differences."
Many Republicans point out that, taken to their logical conclusion, these complaints would mean denouncing the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, which were written by Thomas Jefferson, a slave-holding Virginian.
"We are going to have to distance ourselves from the foundations of this nation and state," said Mr. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican.
"I am very troubled that we are in this situation," said Mr. McDonnell, who was expected to be invited to attend this morning's caucus meeting to make his case.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said he still has trouble understanding why the Black Caucus is so opposed to it, especially the wording.
"How can you say it any better than it is said now?" Mr. Griffith asked.

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