- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2017

BRISTOL, VA. — The chorus of opposition to Confederate monuments has yet to strike a chord in southwestern Virginia, where the service of the “brave men and women” who fought and died for the Confederacy is enshrined in the statue of a soldier in the center of the city.

Dedicated to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1920, the statue was restored a few years ago and now sits on the bank of a small creek, between Lee Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The monument is also within eyeshot of the Bristol Veterans Memorial, which includes four larger-than-life bronze statues honoring members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as a Cobra attack helicopter with shark-teeth nose art.

Joyce Kistner, a retired elementary school teacher who led the restoration effort while serving as chairwoman of the Ann Carter Lee chapter of the UDC, said local residents have celebrated their preservation push, which was funded by the sale of a “Dixie Delights Cookbook.”

“We have had the support of the community from the beginning,” Mrs. Kistner told The Washington Times, speaking on behalf of herself and not the UDC. “Everybody has appreciated it. We have never had any questions about it like, ‘Why did you want to save him?’”

“When I was a teacher, I never thought anyone would want to tear down a statue, a soldier or anything,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Charlottesville, which sits several hours north up Interstates 81 and 64, erupted into violence in August over attempts to pull down a Robert E. Lee statue there, with white nationalists defending the monument and clashing with counterprotesters. A woman was killed, police say, by a white nationalist who rammed his car into a crowd.

Cities across the country are now attempting to tear down monuments associated with the Confederacy, saying they are unwanted scars from a racially divisive past.

But in rural parts of Virginia, where it’s not uncommon to see a Confederate flag sharing the same pole with the American flag, there is not much of a public fuss.

Ben Jones, one of the stars in the popular “Dukes of Hazzard” television show and owner of “Cooter’s” in Luray, said the political backlash against Confederate symbols has poisoned the political discussion. He also said it has been bad for the nation but good for business.

“When they started the attack on Confederate battle flags, in my store I think I sold 10,000 of them,” said Mr. Jones, who pointed out that he is a member of the NAACP and the Sons of Confederate Veterans and that his family tree includes the descendant of a freed slave who fought for the Confederacy.

“There is no solution to this race problem except the one that has always been there — it is what MLK said: Don’t treat people based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he added. ‘That is what is missing from our body politic. Dr. King had it, man.”

The conversation is much different in Washington, where Democrats have called for kicking statues of Confederate figures out of the Capitol’s collection, and where the House took down a display of state flags two years ago because some of their designs paid homage to the Confederacy.

In Virginia, it has become an issue in this year’s governor’s race.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam says he would relocate statues that are under state control and that he supports localities that decide to do the same with their monuments. His Republican rival, Ed Gillespie, agrees that localities should have the final say but says the statues should stay.

Looking to energize conservative activists, Mr. Gillespie is running television ads in southwestern Virginia claiming that Mr. Northam has said he will “do everything he can to remove Virginia’s Confederate monuments and statues if he is elected governor.”

“I think the statues should stay up,” Mr. Gillespie says in the ad.

Analysts say it’s a smart strategy given that polls show most Virginians favor keeping the statues up and that the support crosses party lines.

The group includes Chris McVey, a 57-year-old from Bristol who voted for President Obama and then wrote in his father’s name after refusing to support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

“I think if you take away history, it will repeat itself,” Mr. McVey, a high school sports coach, told The Times.

Former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat who served 14 terms representing the 9th Congressional District, told The Times that the issue has become a distraction.

“I just think we have so many problems in this country, so many challenges, that policymakers ought to be spending time on the things that matter — that are not symbolic,” Mr. Boucher said.

Charlottesville is facing a complicated legal battle over its plans to remove the Lee statue. As that case rages, the city has sued to try to prevent white nationalist “militias” from attempting to rally in the city.

Alexandria has looked into taking down its statue, a work of art named “Appomattox,” depicting a pensive Confederate veteran, that stands on the spot where rebel troops mustered before marching south in 1861.

Fairfax County has begun stripping one of its high schools of the name of a famous Confederate cavalry officer — J.E.B. Stuart.

The mayor of Richmond has tasked a commission with investigating how best to handle Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, and the Portsmouth City Council voted last week to hold a referendum on whether to remove the city’s downtown Confederate monument.

But there has been no movement in Bristol.

In her quest to clean up the soldier, Mrs. Kistner said, she was accused of being a racist once, but she was able to change the woman’s mind after having a black artist friend vouch for her.

“That is how I got out of that one,” she said. “You have to work through people, you know, because it is a touchy situation.”

She said the events in Charlottesville showed that people lack respect for their heritage and got her thinking that perhaps members of both antifa, the liberal activist movement that decries the statues as symbols of racism, and the neo-Nazi sympathizers who rally around the statues to fan the flames of white nationalism, could learn a lesson through military service.

“They don’t respect our country,” she said. “They ought to be shipped somewhere to the battlefield and let them see what it is like. Americans have the best life of any other country, but I am afraid it is going the other way.”

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