Last night I received an email asking why I continue to post about the activities and antics of the Virginia Flaggers [see here and here]. It should be obvious given the content of this blog, but let me once again state the obvious. The Flaggers and their cause provide a clear window into the changing cultural and historical landscape of Richmond and much of the rest of the South. I should point out that I don’t really have a problem with planting the Confederate flag in front of Pelham Chapel, but apparently the VMFA does and it is their private property. Andy Hall was kind enough to forward the official UDC response to Susan Hathaway and the Flaggers following their recent incident:
On December 26, 2011, I responded to Ms. Hathaway advising that Pelham Chapel is not a UDC memorial and that our involvement in this issue could be construed as a ‘political activity’ that would possibly put our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status at risk. I further advised that our Bylaws prevent our involvement in ‘political activity’ and for that reason; the UDC was unable to allow the use of the flag poles located on the front of our UDC Memorial Building. I reminded her that the First National Flag flies daily in front of the UDC Memorial Building in perpetual honor of our Confederate ancestors.
On Wednesday afternoon, March 7, 2012, Ms. Hathaway came to our building and asked to speak with me. Mrs. Lucy Steele, Chairman of the Memorial Building Board of Trustees (who was in the building on other business) and I met with Ms. Hathaway. The request was that they be allowed to ‘gather’ on the front of our property. She was advised that we would not allow that.
The request was then made to allow them to ‘gather’ on the back corner of our property. Mrs. Steele pointed out that the property at the back corner belonged to VMFA but that we did not have a problem with it but she would have to seek approval from VMFA.
Ms. Hathaway then asked if the “No Trespassing” signs that had been posted recently were because of them and if they gathered on our property would the police be called. She was told that, as with any trespasser, we would call the police.
We explained to Ms. Hathaway that there have been instances of people sleeping under the bushes around the building. Recently during a work day, a man was seen crouching between the bushes and the building with binoculars which raised questions as to his intentions. The police were called at that time. “No Trespassing” signs were placed on our property in an effort to protect not only our building but our employees as they come and go, often times during early morning and evening hours.
On Saturday, March 10, 2012, during our Annual Spring Board Meeting, the VA Flaggers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the UDC Memorial Building. A short time later, they were observed leaning and perched on the cannons ignoring signs stating do not climb on the cannons. They then moved from the cannons to the steps leading to our building for a group photo. At this point, Mrs. Steele went out to ask them to move from the steps to the sidewalk – some moved immediately. Others remained on the steps. During this time, the Richmond City Police were called.
The UDC could have found a way to accommodate the Flaggers if they had wanted to do so. It’s safe to say that their “15 Minutes” expired some time ago. Their fundamental problem is the same problem that the rest of the heritage community faces and that is a continued embrace of the Confederate flag as the beginning and end of Confederate memory. It reflects a complete lack of creativity as to how to forge meaningful ties to the past for those people who may be disposed to follow. Although the community believes that their ability to commemorate the past has been threatened, the irony is that there is no better time in the Richmond area to explore the rich history of the Confederacy and the Civil War era. There is some evidence that tourists are visiting the area for precisely this reason, but apart from a few poorly maintained websites (some of which are attached to some pretty shady people) and a YouTube page no one is coming to their defense or providing additional support. It is difficult to see the Virginia Flaggers as little more than a relic of the past.