- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

RICHMOND An attempt to strip a controversial pledge to the Virginia state flag from the House of Delegates' opening procedures was narrowly defeated yesterday by a divided chamber.
For now, "A Salute to the Flag of Virginia" will continue to be recited right after a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag when the House opens its session each day.
On two separate votes, 48 to 49 and 48 to 50, an amendment offered by Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Mary T. Christian was defeated.
Each time, Democrats were joined by Republicans including House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican in an effort to get rid of the pledge that has caused so much controversy and cast a shadow over members' efforts to deal with a $3.5 billion budget shortfall through fiscal 2003-2004.
"This was the last resort after looking at all other things," Mr. Wilkins said of Mrs. Christian's amendment.
The black caucus has been trying for more than three weeks to come up with a compromise that entailed a rewrite of the pledge. Most members of the caucus said the words to the pledge are not offensive, rather it is the context in which the words were created that cause them grief.
The pledge was written in 1946 to be included in the opening tribute to the United Daughters of Confederacy at the meetings of the Virginia chapter. In 1954, when Virginia schools were segregated, the General Assembly adopted the UDC tribute as the state's official flag salute.
"It is ironic, is it not, that 48 percent of the House of Delegates find some objection to the salute," said Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones, Norfolk Democrat and member of the black caucus.
Delegate Dwight C. Jones, Richmond Democrat, said he still thinks the House is being insensitive to those who are offended by the pledge.
"When the vote went down, people said they didn't care," Mr. Jones said.
For most who voted to drop the pledge, their primary concern was not to offend their fellow delegates.
"I cannot serve alongside or empathize with my brother if I continue to offend him," said Delegate Winsome E. Sears, Norfolk Republican. Mrs. Sears is the only black Republican in the General Assembly and a member of the black caucus.
Delegate Robert F. McDonnell introduced and the House passed a change in the rules that added the state flag pledge on Jan. 9 at the opening of the General Assembly session.
The pledge was approved that day by voice vote, with no opposition recorded. The Senate does not have a state flag pledge.
"What you have here is a gulf between emotion and reason," said Mr. McDonnell, who did not speak on the House floor during debate. "We can't change history."
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, who voted to end the pledge, has offered a floor amendment that may revisit the issue and proposed the idea that a "salute committee" be created to draft new words to a salute.
"It's become a stumbling block," Mr. Marshall said about the issue. "If it offends your brother, get rid of it."
During the 35-minute debate, both supporters and opponents were civil in arguing their case, with Delegate H. Morgan Griffith saying that other historical documents would have to be tossed in the trash bin if the authors' pasts were scrutinized.
"If we are to be fair historically, we must look at everything," Mr. Griffith said from the House floor, before reading words that he found offensive and whose author shocked most members.
"The white man is in the saddle for the overthrow of Negro domination," Mr. Griffith said, quoting Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, as saying more than 120 years ago.
"If we are going to be consistent and fair and look at the origins of things, we should not be saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America," Mr. Griffith said.
Mr. McDonnell said he hopes the House can put this issue behind it and concentrate on matters that bring everyone together, no matter one's race.
"This is an emotional sideshow we've had to endure," Mr. McDonnell said.

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