- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

RICHMOND A black woman born and raised in the capital of the Confederacy is joining the United Daughters of the Confederacy because "these people are neighbors and … family."
Nessa B. Johnson, an author active in black history projects, said Tuesday she learned through genealogical research that she had two great-uncles who were Confederate soldiers.
"My grandmother was the daughter of a white doctor from Lunenburg County" in southern Virginia, she said. "He had two sons who served in the Confederacy."
Miss Johnson is well known in Richmond as an author, storyteller and producer of a television documentary in the 1970s called "Black History: It Ain't in the Textbook." She appears in a TV spot promoting Richmond as "easy to love."
She has worked on such projects as the Richmond Slave Trail and a memorial to slaves in the city. She was part of a group that held ceremonies in April to recall the city's surrender to Union forces in 1865.
"I am for telling the complete story of all the people," including slaves, she said.
Miss Johnson said Tuesday that shortly before Christmas she received an invitation from Richmond's Stonewall Jackson chapter of the UDC to become a member.
She said she spoke at a black church on Sunday and heard gasps and snickers when she told the congregation she would accept the invitation.
"I told them I didn't ask anybody black for their opinion, nor did I ask anybody white, but I went to my Scripture. It talked of Jesus saying love your neighbors as yourself. And I had to realize that these people are my neighbors, and more than being neighbors, they are family.
"For them to offer a gesture, they were reaching out a hand to me. Who was I to say, 'No thank you,'?" she said.
Miss Johnson, 61, attended a meeting of the Stonewall Jackson chapter on Jan. 16 and was welcomed by the 20 white women "just like people receive family."
Miss Johnson said she believed some of her white ancestors arrived in Virginia in 1608, the year after the first English settlers landed at Jamestown.
"If they are my ancestors, I am part of what caused slavery," she said. "What can I do about it now?"
For one thing, she said, she can love all people regardless of race. "Once you love them, they aren't enemies anymore."
Salim Khalfani, state executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Miss Johnson is "a sweet person" but he "can't fathom how anybody in good conscience of African history could join that organization."
"There are some blacks who would join the Ku Klux Klan if they allowed them to," Mr. Khalfani said.
UDC President Suzanne Silek said the organization had members who were descendants of American Indian troops who served in the Confederate army, but that she knew of no black members.
She said she had never seen a black member at UDC meetings.
The UDC, based in Richmond, said it is difficult to know for certain if there are black members because race is not mentioned in membership records.
The UDC describes itself as a historical educational, patriotic and benevolent organization with about 22,000 members nationwide.
Any female at least 16 years old can be a member of UDC if she is a blood descendant of "men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or gave Material Aid to the Cause," according to the group's Web site.
Lynda Moreau, director of marketing and media relations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said she knows the SCV has black members because she has met some of them. The racial information of SCV members is not kept in membership files.
"We have people of all races and ethnicities," she said.
The UDC received attention in January, when the Virginia House of Delegates began to recite the Salute to the Virginia Flag to open its daily sessions. The 30-word salute was written by a UDC member in the 1940s.
Some black delegates found the salute offensive because of its connection to Virginia's segregationist past. The House narrowly defeated a proposal to drop the salute.


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