Since the January announcement that Charlottesville City Councilman Kristen Szacos had proposed an ordinance change that would eliminate the Lee-Jackson City Holiday in Charlottesville, we have shared information about the rich Confederate history of the city. One of my favorite topics is the presentation of a battle flag to the men of Stuart’s Horse Artillery, hand sewn by the ladies of Charlottesville by the Mayor and City Council of Charlottesville, after they managed to turn back the Yankee army, against 5 to 1 odds, and save the city from destruction during the Battle of Rio Hill on February 29, 1864. There is a good summary here…
When our friend Blaine Hypes, of the Flat Top Copperheads in WV, saw one of the posts about the flag, he contacted me and told me he had a replica and wanted us to have it to use in our fight in Charlottesville. I was thrilled, but even more so when I received it and it turned out to be a custom-made beauty! Last night, we took the flag with us, and before the meeting, visited the Confederate monument, just a few blocks away from council chambers. A citizen passing by offered to take a photo of us holding the flag.
When we arrived at council chambers, 45 minutes early, there was already a line to sign up for one of 12 available slots for public speaking. We were disappointed when we made our way to the sign-up sheet, and realized that we were numbers 13, 14, and 15 in line, respectively, and none of us would have the opportunity to speak. With a full half hour left before the meeting was to begin, we saw the Charlottesville citizen who had been shouted down at the last meeting when he spoke in favor of the Lee-Jackson holiday, and I took the flag over to show him and chat with him a bit. I went back to my seat, admittedly frustrated that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak. Moments later, someone tapped my shoulder, and when I looked up, it was the same gentleman, who had come to offer us his slot to speak. He said that he speaks at every meeting, and he wanted us to have the opportunity to do so since we had come so far. Overwhelmed by his generous offer, we accepted and quickly decided to combine the contents of the presentations we had prepared and that I would deliver the address.
I included the history of the flag, and Patrick and Barry held it up as I spoke. Video of my remarks can be viewed here, with special thanks to Terry L. Hulsey of Fort Worth, TX, for granting me permission to use a quote from his correspondence to City Council... and David Tatum for posting the video…
Transcript of remarks:
Honorable Mayor, Councilors, Citizens of the Charlottesville and the Commonwealth,
Since I last spoke in these chambers, much has been made about the fact that I, and a few others who spoke against the proposed amendment to remove the Lee-Jackson holiday, are not Charlottesville residents, as if that somehow makes what we have to say irrelevant. After witnessing the way speakers in this chamber were treated who dared to have an opinion different than those of the vocal citizens in attendance, I can completely understand why the hundreds of citizens of Charlottesville who have contacted us do not feel comfortable attending these meetings or speaking up in this atmosphere. In addition, we heard from city employees who are upset about the proposed change, but fear that if they speak out in any way, there will face retaliation from what they see as a biased and prejudicial administration.
Charlottesville has a rich Confederate history. On March 7, 1864, the ladies of Charlottesville presented a hand sewn flag to the men of Stuart’s Horse Artillery after the unit, facing 5 to 1 odds, stopped the Yankee army from burning and destroying Charlottesville. The battle flag was carried by the unit until it surrendered in April of 1865, and is now on display in the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, WV. The flag shows the patina of age, along with the rents of battle, but it continues to serve as a reminder of what might have been the worst day in Charlottesville history, if not for the courage of its brave defenders.
Some friends in West Virginia had a replica made and we brought it today to the show the assembly.
I would like to again point out the real and present danger of the precedence you are setting, should you decide to eliminate this holiday tonight. If you take it upon yourselves to strike down a holiday that was established by the duly elected representatives of this city, you are opening the door to having the same thing happen to Thomas Jefferson Day, for instance, should a future council decide he is not “worthy of honoring”. I, and many of those present here, witnessed one of your own citizens call for the removal of every trace of Thomas Jefferson from the very city that he helped build, and receive APPLAUSE and CHEERS in this chamber, following his remarks. Certainly, you MUST see that once you open this door, there will be no end to the PC cleansing of our history and heritage.
In the background of this proposed amendment, Charlottesville’s commitment to be a “Community of Mutual Respect” is cited, apparently as one of the reasons for this change, which reads:
“In all endeavors, the City of Charlottesville is committed to racial and cultural diversity, inclusion, racial reconciliation, economic justice, and equity. As a result, every citizen is respected. Interactions among city leaders, city employees and the public are respectful, unbiased, and without prejudice.”
How can you possibly claim cultural diversity when you choose to dishonor Confederate Veterans, whose descendants make up a large segment of your population? How can you suggest that this amendment will promote racial reconciliation, when it serves to divide instead of bring people together? How can you claim that this decision is unbiased, and without prejudice when it singles out an entire group of people and dishonors their heritage?
I understand that at least one member of this very Council has suggested that the Confederate Memorials here in Charlottesville, yes, even, the magnificent equestrian sculpture of Robert E. Lee, copied in many localities across the U.S., should be removed, and by your actions tonight, you will show the Commonwealth and the nation whether or not you are heading down that very dangerous path.
But, even if you choose to move forward with this desecration, and should your backwater tyranny temporarily succeed, you will, ultimately, fail. History will remain unchanged, and the sterling character of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will remain, long after your names are forgotten.
I urge you to set aside the prejudice and bias which led to this proposed amendment, and leave the Lee-Jackson Holiday as is.
When the public speaking period ended, Councilmen responded to the public comments and not one of them addressed the Lee-Jackson Day issue. Not only that, but instead of calling for a vote and having each councilman publicly record their vote for or against the ordinance, they approved it unanimously as part of a “consent agenda”, bundled with a number of other resolutions and appropriations. This was obviously intentional and a predetermined method of avoiding making any type of individual public statement... a cowardly move, and stunning even for those who were well versed on the background and history of this council.
Returning home after midnight, I received a message from someone suggesting that going to Charlottesville had been a waste of time. I strongly disagree. Even though there were a few moments Monday afternoon when, thinking of other things that demanded my attention, I considered bowing out, those of us who attended were overwhelmingly grateful that we had taken the time to do so. We had the opportunity to once again go on public record against the Council, share a bit of Confederate history with a packed chamber (including a large number of local high school students in attendance), and made sure that Council knew there were at least a handful of citizens who will not go quietly into the night. On top of all that, we got to flag City Council! ;)
That alone would have been enough to make the trip worthwhile, but as we were leaving we had conservations with no less than TWO local residents about putting Battle Flag Memorials on their property in Charlottesville. It appears that City Council has alienated a large segment of its population, and we can only pray that the unwarranted assault on the Lee-Jackson holiday will serve as a wake-up in Charlottesville, and across the Commonwealth. In addition, a local resident who is involved with public access television offered to have us develop a regular segment, highlighting Confederate history and heritage defense issues!
We left Charlottesville disgusted by the manner in which the Charlottesville City Council took it upon themselves to strike down a holiday which had been rightfully observed in the city since 1888… but with the satisfaction of knowing that taking a stand for what is right is ALWAYS the right thing to do, no matter what the odds.
We only wish there had been hundreds more there to stand with us.
Many thanks to all those who took the time to write letters and emails and make phone calls to members of City Council. Your support is greatly appreciated and was not in vain. They may have won this battle, but we have no intention of giving up the fight. Stay tuned...