- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The problem with revising history and trying to blot out black facts and sugarcoat and forget is knowing when to stop.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is facing just such a conundrum right now.

And it’s a conundrum that, by logical extension, could only be solved by erasing the entire town history of Charlottesville, the entire county history of Albemarle that encircles Charlottesville — heck, even the entire state history of Virginia.

First, the backstory. Charlottesville’s city council, famed now for its handling of a movement to tear down a Confederate statue, just voted 4-1 to quit recognizing Thomas Jefferson’s birthday as an official city holiday — or, as The Associated Press rather derisively put it, the council members voted “to scrap the decades-old April 13 holiday honoring the slave-holding president and Founding Father.” Nice. How about “writer of the Declaration of Independence” perhaps? Or even writer of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom — and founder of the University of Virginia, which still stands in Charlottesville?

Anyhow, the city leaders, in all their wisdom, decided instead to go with a day of observation that recognizes the freeing of slaves, the much more targeted Liberation and Freedom Day that occurred when Army forces entered the city on March 3, 1865.

Not saying it’s unimportant to recognize this day.

Just wondering: Why does it have to replace a day that recognizes someone like Jefferson — the guy who not only penned perhaps the greatest pro-liberty document in the history of mankind and who, oh yeah, by the way, opposed slavery into America’s expansion into the northwest territories?

Truthful, contextually accurate history be danged. City council members ultimately voted to drop Jefferson from its holiday rolls after several contentious public debates left them reeling from politically correct pressures to do something to ease the discomforts of those who saw the framer in two lights only: as slave owner and possible rapist. 

Enter, hypocrisy.

If the logic is that Jefferson was a slave owner and therefore, he isn’t worthy of public honor and remembrance, then Charlottesville’s got some bigger issues to address.

So, too, the entire state of Virginia.

There’s this, as reported by The Daily Progress in August, 2017: “[Charlottesville] was part of Massive Resistance in Virginia, closing schools in response to the federal order to integrate public schools.”

Massive Resistance was a strategy that came from the minds of Virginia’s lawmakers who held a special legislative session to decide how best to oppose the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education forced integration of public schools. Basically, the lawmakers said, no, no, not in our state. U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd, a Democrat from Virginia, picked up the mantra at the federal level and pushed it as a states’ right issue.

“We face the gravest crisis since the war between the states,” Byrd said, of forced desegregation.

Interesting, yes?

Even more interesting is this: Shenandoah National Park’s main visitor center is named in Byrd’s honor. Virginia State Route 7 is still named, in portions, the “Harry F. Byrd Highway.” And up until mid-2016, the Quioccasin Middle School in Richmond was named Harry F. Byrd Middle School.

Yes, one of Virginia’s fiercest fighters of desegregated schooling actually had a school in Virginia named in his honor.

What’s Charlottesville’s city council going to do about this bit of abject racist history? Or, about the fact that “enslaved laborers formed a significant portion of the [University of Virginia’s] construction workforce,” as the college’s own history reports? Tear down those university walls?

Or, about this, as reported in the same Daily Progress piece: “In the 1960s, the historically black neighborhood of Vinegar Hill [in Charlottesville] was razed in the name of urban renewal, the policy and history of which remain a controversial topic to this day.” A “thriving black community” is how Medium described it.

Ruh roh, Scooby. That was 1965, for crying out loud. Pretty recent. If the city can’t rectify its racial issues, then perhaps the county, or state, or even United States, ought to step in, right? After all, it could be argued a black mark on one aspect of America’s history is a black mark on all of America’s history.

Hello, Pandora’s Box.

No doubt, many more racist ties of Charlottesville’s own finest could be unearthed by scrutinizing the Albemarle County Free Negro and Slave Records, including “affidavits and certificates of freedom,” “committee [decisions] regarding carrying of arms by negroes papers,” “deeds of emancipation,” “slave patrol papers,” “petition[s] to be classified as white,” and so forth and so on — all helpfully chronicled by the Library of Virginia.

That’s the same source that also records how in 1803, the General Assembly of Virginia required every “free negro or mulatto” to be registered and numbered at the county clerk’s office. That’s the same source that reports how three years later, this same body of lawmakers tried to order the entire “free negro population” out of the state. Those who remained “would forfeit the right to freedom and be sold by the Overseers of the Poor for the benefit of the parish.”

Yet Charlottesville thinks it’s climbed an ivory tower with this vote to drop Jefferson’s birthday as a recognized holiday? In biblical terms, talk about specks versus beams.

It’s one thing to seek to bring noble historical truths to the forefront.

It’s human nature to want to forget dark pasts. 

But let’s keep truth and perspective as the main guides, please.

It’s quite a can of worms to try to blot out the histories of those who actually founded this great nation of ours by illogically and unfairly comparing the complexities of their long-ago lives — with all their long-ago customs and cultures and politics, both good and bad — to the standards of modern society.

It means, in this Charlottesville voting example, that if Jefferson must go, so, too, must much of the histories of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. And that, no doubt, opens the door for similar reflections and revisionisms by all the other states.

The next question to address, of course, is who gets to do the revisionism.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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