There seems to be a reluctance by white moderates in Virginia — elected officials and otherwise — to challenge the public existence of Confederate statues in the Commonwealth. I refer to such as “The Silent Support Syndrome.”
Following the American Civil War, Virginia was one of the last seven states to re-join the United States of America, along with Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Virginia was among the first states to erect statues to Confederate generals and soldiers in the 1890s.
Because of the possibility of being convicted as traitors to the United States, Confederates were given pardons and forced to pledge an oath of loyalty to the Union as a requirement for citizenship.
And while not Confederates, most white elected officials in Virginia were racial bigots by believing the inherent inferiority of black people. For example, in 1872, the “Anti-Negro Committee” of the Virginia General Assembly passed racially restrictive laws in marriage, housing districts, public restaurants, public parks and public performances.
However, later, a minority of moderate white people — mostly Quakers and members of the NAACP — stood up and challenged Jim Crow policies in Virginia. They did so with a mantle of moral courage. For them, giving all Americans full citizenship was more about right and wrong than black and white.
But where are such white moderates in the halls of the Virginia General Assembly and the suites of corporate Virginia today? Where does the white church leadership in Virginia stand on Confederate statue removal today? Their silence condemns them as complicit with the Confederacy and its lost cause.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in April 1963, “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Dr. King’s letter called white Americans to be more “American” than “white” and Christians to be more “Christian” than “white.”
Confederate statues represent slavery, secession, sedition, racial segregation, the false notion of white supremacy and “Jim Crow” that followed the statues’ erection in Virginia. Confederate statue removal is a moral issue of great magnitude.
Whether white people who consider themselves moderate act on the removal of Confederate statues from public places will define how the Commonwealth is perceived nationally and internationally. Not to act could have disastrous results on tourism and economic development for the entire state.
Our beloved state can be “Virginia is for Lovers” or “Virginia is for Haters.” It is time the “Old Dominion” becomes the “New Dominion” by removing Confederate statues from public places. By doing so, we will show the world that after 400 years since Africans were forcibly brought to the Commonwealth, we finally are beginning to “get it!”