As another Black History Month has passed I revisited the relevant speech given by former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, Maynard Jackson in 2002, while speaking in Portland, Oregon, entitled, “The Scared Negro Disease”.
Mayor Jackson’s diagnosis is seemingly cancerous in Black politicians in the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly as it relates to the removal of Confederate statues.
Maynard Jackson was one of the last “Race Men” (and Women) who were elected mayor of a city. Mayor Jackson became the first Black mayor of a city in the American south. He joined the racial regal ranks of Carl Stokes, Richard Hatcher, Coleman Young, Marion Berry, Harold Washington, and Chokwe Lubuumba as fearless mayors who courageously challenged the prevailing powers of their time. Such men and women of courage are needed in the Commonwealth of Virginia to remove Confederate statues.
Despite his privileged upbringing, Maynard Jackson was not scared to “call it like is was”. Moreover, he used his powers in elective office for all people, by enforcing fairness in contracts entered in to by the City of Atlanta.
The history of the statues is rooted in the “religion” of the Confederacy, which was established to maintain free labor of Africans. The documents of secession from the United States of America by Confederate states are replete with referrals, “…white supremacy…” of White people, and “racial inferiority” asserted for African people.
Initially, after the American Civil War, White southerners were ashamed to identify with the Confederate loss. In the 1880’s, the Daughters of the Confederacy began a campaign to insert favorable language of “honor”, “nobility”, and “courage” ascribed to confederate soldiers in school textbooks. In addition, The Daughters began to raise money to erect statues of Confederate soldiers and generals.
Black leaders, newly elected under Federal Reconstruction, were limited in their response to the resurgence of Confederate symbols, following the removal of federal troops in Southern states, due to the Hayes/Tilden presidential compromise of 1877 (not to mention the ever present threat of death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan).
Not until Black candidates won a majority on Richmond’s City Council in 1977 did Chuck Richardson, Maynard Jackson’s brother-in-law, call for the removal of the statues.
Some would say: Why challenge pieces of bronze? Who cares?
If the Confederate statues were merely medal, White nationalists and neo-Nazis would not arm themselves to protect the statues and, in the process, kill Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia last August.
Global citizens from Beijing, China, to Budapest, Hungary, to Burundi, East Africa know the Commonwealth of Virginia because of Charlottesville. The statues are a stain on our beloved state.
As the Commonwealth prepares to commemorate it 400th year the Confederate the statues are a constant reminder that elected officials support “The Commonwealth of the Confederacy”, with the tourism motto of, “Virginia is for Haters”.
Where are the voices of valor from Black elected officials—and White ones too? Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct with conviction in saying, “No one can ride your back if it is not bent”.
I have had the honor of being trained by, worked for, and worked with fearless men and women who took on—and won—battles of racial respect in their time.
With such a background, today’s Black elected officials at every level of government in Virginia who refuse to take a stand for removal of Confederate statues, suffer from “The Scared Negro Disease”, and such sickens me.