Quick Thought About the Confederate Flag Controversy in Lexington

Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia

I’ve taken a little time this morning to check out the responses surrounding the Confederate flag in Lexington, Virginia.  I am struck by the over-the-top/vitriolic nature of much of what is being posted around the Internet.  Blanket generalizations are being issued about what motivated the city council as well as emotional statements promising never to return to the city.  It seems to boil down to the belief that Southern heritage has been violated or the rights of southerners have somehow been cruelly violated.  What are we to make of this?

These people seem to forget that Lexington is a southern town and its residents, who I assume we must include within that same category, arrived at a decision as to how they wish their community to be represented or how they wish their tax dollars to be used.  Southerners have spoken loud and clear through their councilmen.  Even more interesting is the fact that this is the clearest example of local government in action.  No despotic power from the outside forced this decision on the good folks of Lexington.  For a group of people who consistently go into fits and seizures about the dangers of federal power and the tyrant Lincoln you would think that they would celebrate democracy in action on the most local level.

It comes down to the question of who is and who is not a Southerner.  I see Civil War memory at work here on a number of levels.

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34 comments… add one
  • Judith McParland Jul 11, 2014 @ 8:13

    Obviously none of the contributors so far have ever taken part in the activities in Lexington on Lee Jackson day. Banning the flags from Lee Chapel is silly. They are pieces of cloth, no more, no less, and anyone who honors Robert E. Lee for the man he was knows that. No one MARCHES on the grounds of W & L. The parade leaves Stonewall Jackson’s grave and ends at VMI where the participants walk the short distance to Lee Chapel. Prayers are said, hymns are sung, and a speaker solidifies the opinions of the attendees as to the integrity, decency and the upstanding moral conduct of R. E. Lee. A short verse of Dixie is sung. No plots to secede from the union, nor march into Pennsylvania and take over. No treason is plotted, and no one is urged to do or say anything to offend anyone.
    But this action by the University seems to indicate that even though they exist only because R. E. Lee agreed to become their President after the war and saved the school from total ruin by raising funds and urging young men to seek an education, they are quite willing to throw that aside because 9 students are “offended” by some pieces of cloth. How long will it be before this 9, or another 9 are offended by Lee and his family being interred beneath the chapel? Will they bring in a crew to tear down the horrible concrete crypt and toss the bodies out onto the road? What happens when these 9 or another 9 think Lee’s name should be abandoned and all things concerning him destroyed? Actually, abandoning the Lee name might be a good thing since the powers that be don’t deserve it, And perhaps they might suggest that these 9 take some history lessons, since their views on R. E. Lee and slavery are not even close to fact.
    I hate to break the news to Lexington but without Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, why in the world would anyone want to do more than ride through on their way to somewhere interesting? Lousy restaurants and overpriced boutiques can be found anywhere. And lest some or any who read this think I am a disgruntled southern supporter of the late Confederacy just seething with resentment at the treatment of those who honor their forebearers, sorry. I am a Northern gal, born and bred, although I do come from the South Shore of Long Island and had a Federal soldier in the family.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 11, 2014 @ 8:17

      Banning the flags from Lee Chapel is silly.

      Confederate flags are not being banned on campus. In fact, the university is going to display original Confederate flags inside Lee Chapel. You are unnecessarily going off the deep end with this comment. I suggest reading the list of student demands and the president’s response. Thanks for your comment.

      • Judith McParland Jul 11, 2014 @ 8:54

        I have read the statement and I do not think I am going off the deep end. The 9 students demanded and the 9 students got. Their history is skewed. They are offended. So am I.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 11, 2014 @ 9:02

          The 9 students demanded and the 9 students got.

          That is as simplistic a reading as I’ve seen, but you are entitled to it. Thanks for the comments.

  • Rudy York Jan 20, 2012 @ 5:04

    FYI… There are NO southerners on Lexington City Council.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2012 @ 5:06

      What does that mean? Are we suggesting that only certain people who live in Lexington count as “southerners”? Let me guess, they have to have lived there for a certain amount of time. If so, what arbitrary date would you like to attach to it?

      • Ray O'Hara Jan 20, 2012 @ 6:34

        Not being accepted as ‘one of us” is a common trait shared by much of the country.
        You can move to Maine and after 25 years you’ll still be referred to as “from away”.
        On the Massachusetts islands, the locals will never accept you. not that they will be rude or shunning, you’ll just always be an outsider.

        You are new to Boston, but you are called a Bostonian, you’re here, that’s enough to be one of us. We are used to people from all over moving in in more rural areas they aren’t used to a more mobile population.
        I live in a neighborhood with many long time residents, but also immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Brazil and many young couples starting families. all are accepted as being one of us.

  • Rob Baker Sep 4, 2011 @ 20:41

    Kevin, I thought you would like to know that in the shadows of the Lexington event, there have also been developments with the Confederate Battle Flag’s display along the Interstate system in Georgia. I wrote about here with links to the Atlanta Journal’s original post. http://www.historicstruggle.com/2011/09/unfurl-flag-boys.html

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2011 @ 1:23

      I have heard about it, but I only have so much patience for Confederate flag disputes. Thanks for passing along the link.

  • Billy Bearden Sep 3, 2011 @ 12:23

    I have been quite involved in this whole affair for many months, and then traveled from Georgia to Lexington to participate with the Save the Flags crowd, ending up speaking before the city council.

    Here are a few facts FYI

    The flags in question under attack were specifically the 2nd National Stainless Banner, Robert E Lee’s HQ Flag, and the 1861 Va state flag. These flags were chosen and flown only once – Lee/Jackson week 2011

    Lexington is under a Federal Order not to ban or bar Confederate Flags from public locations since 1993. This being the case, it was decided that other flags – VMI, WLU, and even Triads flags would be sacrificed so as not to ‘appear’ discriminatory.

    Lexington City Manager Jon Ellistad said in the media there were no complaints on the flags.. Later a dear sweet old woman had a TV microphone placed before her on January 10th and she complained her “feelings were embarrassed” but invoked her position as a Professor at Washington and Lee by saying she was “embarrassed before her students” because of what the town was allowing. Her name is Anna Brodsky.

    Professor Brodsky then drew up a “ban the flag” petition, in which she got 350 signators of WLU staff and students to join her. She presented this petition to the city council and THAT is the sole impetus behind the final events of September 1st.

    FOIA to examine the Brodsky petition shows that more than 70% of the students who signed are not of Lexington, but itenerant students from across the country.

    Professor Brodsky herself is a teacher of German and Russian, has written extensively on Russian homosexuality, and neither she, her husband WLU Professor Kevin Crotty or thier daughter is from Lexington nor Virginia.

    Between Prof Brodsky and Lexington Mayor Elrod, various groups like SPLC, ActBlue, Obama, and Progressive Party show up next to thier names when a cursory internet search is done.

    The hearing on the vote because of said petition was extended twice, finally settling on Sept 1st, so as to allow the student-signers to return from summer break. Prof Brodsky herself decided to avoid the Sept 1st hearing.

    There was a counter petition signed, offered but of course ignored to oppose the flag ban. It contained 1,670 names NEARLY 5 times the amount to ban the flags. Surprisingly (not!) more than 350 signers were from either Lexington, Buena Vista, or Rockbridge County, or were in fact Lex business owners.

    Roanoke news stated there were 300 flag rally participants, there were only approx 50 pro-ban students in the audience of the city council.

    The fix was in from the get go. Everything y’all were reading in the media was window dressing at the slaughter house.

    Now comes the lawsuit…

    • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2011 @ 12:33

      I fail to see what this has to do with the way the vote went in the council. Most of the articles indicated that the majority of residents who showed up to the meeting voiced their concerns about the flag’s display on city property. Are you suggesting that W&L students were allowed to speak at the meeting? That is the first I’ve heard of this.

      • Billy Bearden Sep 3, 2011 @ 12:53

        There were 3 clipboards for speakers to sign up , 1 for ‘locals’ 1 for surrounding areas like Buena Vista and Rockbridge Co, and the last one for ‘outsiders’ like me. They drew from those lists in that order.

        While I cannot say exactly who was from where, the first couple of rows looked exactly like college types. Perhaps WLU journalism and other pro-ban supporting students (young early20’s and while warped on any facts of history, were well read grammatically)

        Kevin – don’t believe everything you read in the media.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2011 @ 13:00

          I certainly don’t, but you have yet to make the case that W&L students were allowed to speak. If you are going to make the claim than it is up to you to make the case.

          • Billy Bearden Sep 3, 2011 @ 13:38

            I don’t recall saying they spoke, just that it was moved to Sept 1st to allow them convenience to sit in on the meeting since most signers were not of Lexington.

            And lest we get all lost in the “Southrons” (R) vs yankee carpetbagging interlopers, this entire affair was at the behest of a 350 name petition resulting from ‘Embarrassed feelings’

            • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2011 @ 13:39

              It seemed to be implied in your comment. Thank you for the clarification. It still comes down to the fact that the residents of Lexington spoke out on this issue. I think that is called local self-government.

              • Billy Bearden Sep 3, 2011 @ 22:41

                My prepared remarks given to Lexington City Council:

                Mayor, City Council members, thank you for allowing me to address you this evening.

                My name is Billy Bearden. I reside in Carrollton Georgia.

                I come before you tonight to speak against the proposed city ordinance designed to ban the use
                of all flags being flown from pole standards except the current United States and Virginia State flags, due to a single complaint of ’embarrassed feelings’ arising from the Lee – Jackson Day this past January.

                I understand thru various media articles and via conversations with those most intimately involved with this important issue
                it boils down to the old adage “To cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face”. It seems to me to be short sighted, discriminatory, and goes against common decency of mutual respect for diversity.

                What got my attention on this matter is the following January 10th quote from a Mrs Anna Brodsky, who invoked her position as a Professor at Washington and Lee University :
                ”I understand the flags are to hang there for a whole week. It is certainly too much and frankly it’s causing me an embarrassment, I teach young people at Washington and Lee and I’m embarrassed before my students that our town allows such a thing to happen for so long,”

                No, I am not from Lexington, but it appears that the originator of the flags complaint, Professor Anna Brodsky, isn’t either. I am a ‘military brat’ born in Newport News, raised in Hampton and married in Williamsburg. My Father was career US Army, and between active and civil service, gave 48 years of his life for his Country.

                My father joined the fight in World War 2, served in Korea and Viet Nam, then retired and went back to teach young soldiers logistics. Both my parents passed away in 2003 and are buried together in Arlington National Cemetery.

                I have found that I too, have some dogs in this Flag Fight here in Lexington. My parents now rest in what used to be Robert E Lee’s yard, now the most sacred of US Military burial grounds in the world. I can trace lineage between my family and that of Thomas Jonathan Jackson that makes he and I cousins. My Dad, as Robert E. Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson were Veterans who served their country with distinction and honor, and all 3 were dedicated teachers for the betterment of American youth.

                In my humble opinion, this effort to assuage the “embarrassed feelings” of Professor Brodsky is a deliberate slap in the face to intentionally disrespect all American Veterans. The flags in question – General Lee’s Headquarter’s Flag and the Stainless Banner (aka Jackson Flag) are just as solid and meaningful to the military service of the men who made them famous – Robert E. Lee and Thomas Stonewall Jackson on Lee/Jackson Day in the home of thier final resting place as is the granite marker my parents rest under in Arlington.

                The United States Congress bestowed equal rights and recognition enjoyed by Union Veterans to Confederate Veterans in 1958. The United States also bestowed a Congressional Gold Medal on the last 2 surviving Confederate Veterans. The United States Army has named many military bases for Confederate leaders, including Fort Lee. The United States Navy named 2 submarines for Confederate heroes – USS Robert E Lee and USS Stonewall Jackson.

                The woman with ’embarrassed feelings’ seeks to bite the hand that feeds her. She works at an institution made famous by the same man whose symbols she seeks to ban. Her field of expertise is apparently all things Russian. We would all do well to remember that the Russian Communists perfected the banning of symbols, the eradication of opposing ideas, and the censorship of thoughts not compatible with the Red Party Line. I am not making assertions she is in any way a Communist, however I am saying her statements and actions will result in the same outcome if her personal demand is met.

                Robert Edward Lee, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, and my father were American Veterans. This attack on the symbols of Lee and Jackson is for me the same as if Mrs Brodsky went to my parents marker in Arlington and smashed it with a sledgehammer. I would never sit still for such a hateful bigotted attack, which has lead me to this place in this hour.

                I pray you on the Lexington City Council will help us stop her bigotted attack and defend the sacred honor of ALL American Veterans.

                Thank you for your time
                God Bless

                • Kevin Levin Sep 4, 2011 @ 1:47

                  Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

            • Rob Sep 3, 2011 @ 13:42

              I am also trying to understand the issue though. You can still have Flag Day and everything else. What is so specifically detrimental to warrant a reaction of this magnitude?

              • billy bearden Sep 3, 2011 @ 22:34

                The dominoes – they be a tumblin’

                Just from a Virginia standpoint Rob, can you not sense a planned organized attack ?

                Amherst County BOS Chair Leon Parrish meets behind closed doors and mandates without council approval of the council the seal of said be stripped of it’s nearly 50 year old picture of the CBF of ANV. No public notice nor hearings all0wed.

                Boy Scouts change name of Robert E Lee council
                NCAA “Dixie Division” name dropped
                State song removed
                State flag salute attacked
                ANVCBF removed from pole next to chair where Lee took command of ANV in old Chambers
                Va National Guard forced to remove CBF from logo

                and on and on and on…..

                • Rob Sep 4, 2011 @ 6:24

                  No I can’t. I think it is an irrational action, followed an irrational reaction.

                  • Billy Bearden Sep 4, 2011 @ 10:51

                    That’s OK Rob, I figured as much, but hey – I’ll leave the lights on for you if you ever want to come home to truth from the dark

                    • Rob Baker Sep 7, 2011 @ 1:40

                      That’s cute. Instead of response, it’s insult. The basic fact is the structures you are wishing to ‘publicly display your heritage on’ are city owned. Meaning that if the community is paying the taxes that maintain said pole, then they should not have to pay for your display. So again I take back my statement, rational action, followed by irrational reaction is more appropriate. If I was the descendant of a slave, I do not think I would want the symbol of your heritage to be flown in my face either.

  • Dick Dienstag Sep 2, 2011 @ 11:19

    There is irony in defending the Confederati, given their persistently rude and inconsiderate misbehavior toward many of their fellow citizens, to say nothing of the fantastic and absurd (per)versions of history they spew, but freedom of expression is either for all of us or else for none of us. Whether or not this new law will stand up in the courts remains to be seen, but the concept of censorship scares me more than anything any of those people could possibly say.

  • Brooks Simpson Sep 2, 2011 @ 9:33

    I am amused that many of the very same people who complain about outside interference in community affairs are outsiders attempting to influence community affairs.

  • Rob Baker Sep 2, 2011 @ 7:58

    The irrational responses are seemingly an indicator of two things:
    one, that the radical ideology people share of being ‘southern’ and allegiance to all its symbols is simply idiotic; and two, that way we remember the civil war, and memorialize it, is very much alive. Which is good news for us I guess.

    Personally I do not see nor understand the out cry of ‘rights being trampled’ or the need to preserve the idea of those who fought and died under the battle flag. For one, I am pretty sure the city ordinance states, no flags, with the exception of these. That in my mind limits and unifies all flag poles in the city. Personal displays are still open to interpretation if I am not mistaken. So what is the serious nature of this ordinance and its attack on “heritage?”

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2011 @ 8:06

      If I remember correctly flags from both VMI and W&L are also banned. This is just another example of the victim mentality that certain folks assume when they feel as if their heritage rights are being trampled upon. This is much ado about nothing, but it does highlight the fact that southerners have never operated under one cultural/political perspective. This is a modern example of “The South v. The South.”

      • Rob Baker Sep 2, 2011 @ 8:15

        I would definitely agree with that aspect. I was in Lexington about a month ago, and I really don’t remember Confederate flags flow in the first place, minus around Lee’s sculpture inside the church. This ideology of things being trampled on is absolutely ridiculous.

        • Andy Hall Sep 2, 2011 @ 10:19

          I believe the Confederate flags were only displayed on the lampposts on Lexington’s Lee-Jackson celebration every January to begin with. It was not, AFAIK, an ongoing thing to begin with.

          • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2011 @ 10:23

            That’s right.

      • Sherree Sep 3, 2011 @ 3:12

        “This is a modern example of ‘The South v. The South.’””

        So true.

        Hi Kevin,

        It has been that way for a very long time–the South v the South–and probably will be that way for a still even longer time, the “v” part of the equation involving white southerner v white southerner; black southerner v black southerner; white southerner v black southerner, etc. And then, of course, there is white southerner v “transplanted Yankee”. I don’t know. The future looks dismal. 🙂

        On a brighter note–what a marriage made in heaven: the SCV and the ACLU.

        Enjoying the blog.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2011 @ 3:22

          Nice to hear from you, Sherree and nice to know you are still reading. 🙂

  • Andy Hall Sep 2, 2011 @ 7:46

    It’s pretty simple, really. Being a Southerner is a matter of birth, residence or (perhaps) lineage. Being a Southron is a matter of ideology.

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