Another Defeat For the Virginia Flaggers

Virginia FlaggersWith each perceived heritage violation the Virginia Flaggers somehow manage to place themselves further from the mainstream when it comes to the display of the Confederate flag. Their assumed stance that they alone ought to dictate what it means to commemorate and remember the Confederate past has won them very few, if any, allies in Virginia and beyond. Even after all the protests they have yet to garner one significant victory.

The controversy at W&L was a perfect opportunity for the Virginia Flaggers to demonstrate their ability to engage in some creative thinking and sincere interest in a solution that would be satisfactory to all constituents. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly all the Flaggers could muster was much of the same extreme outrage and self-righteousness in response to what most  observers believe was a reasonable response by the president.

In fact, I still don’t understand why the Flaggers and others are so upset about the president’s response. As I pointed out the other day the students in question actually got very little of what they originally demanded. I have my doubts that the majority of the people who post on the Virginia Flaggers’ Facebook page even read the president’s response.

At the center of this controversy is the removal of replica flags around the Lee Recumbent Monument that were placed decades after his death. What seems to have been lost in their call for a letter campaign, marches, calls for the president’s resignation, etc. is that the school has arranged for original Confederate battle flags to be displayed in the chapel museum on the same level as the Lee family crypt. The Flaggers and others have placed themselves in an untenable position.

If the removal of these replica flags ought to be considered a heritage violation than we must also assume that the failure to place those flags around the monument in the first few decades following Lee’s death was also a heritage violation. More to the point, without additional commentary from the leadership of the Virginia Flaggers we must also believe that the return of original flags to the chapel is just as much a heritage violation as the removal of the replicas.

The outrage over this decision fits neatly into previous Flagger protests. Let’s review. The organization known as the Virginia Flaggers started over the removal of a Confederate flag that had been displayed outside of the chapel at the “Old Soldiers’ Home” in Richmond, Virginia. The group continues to protest even though there are multiple Confederate flags on display inside. In 2012 members of the Flaggers traveled to Appomattox to protest the new Museum of the Confederacy’s decision not to fly a Confederate flag in the entrance way of the building. Visitors can see multiple original flags on display inside the museum. I would love to see the Virginia Flaggers organize a protest near W&L’s campus once an original flag is placed on display inside the chapel.

If they do organize a protest they probably should not look for much support from the student body. I’ve visited the campus multiple times. I have a pretty good sense of the student body given that the school I taught at in central Virginia for ten years sent a steady stream of graduates to Lexington. One recent graduate of W&L, who I remember as politically conservative, contacted me last night and offered the following.

I personally think Ruscio’s response was great. He is making an attempt at compromise while being unwilling to compromise the history of our school and country- in particular that the real flags will be brought in and displayed in the museum. I also strongly support what Ruscio said about MLK programming being a stronger recognition of the holiday and what MLK accomplished than a holiday which students would look at as “another day off”

Oh well, the Flaggers will always have Virginia’s highways.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

25 comments… add one

  • Spelunker Jul 10, 2014

    A protest is reportedly being organized by the League if the South.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

      The Virginia Flaggers and League of the South is a match made in heaven.

      • Josephine Bass Jul 10, 2014

        We know what you are doing you are still working on the take over; we are not fooled that your student trip to Mississippi was a friendly hello. I agree with Connie, but we also know nothing we say will add anything that you will ever agree with; Thanks Connie for posting for us we appreciate you.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

          I missed you Josephine. Yes, the takeover is well under way. Stay tuned. :-)

          • khepera420 Jul 10, 2014

            Damn, Kevin, they’re onto you! ;-) You, you carpetbager!

      • Christopher Shelley Jul 10, 2014

        This is an idea that swirls around these CW blogs and FB pages, it seems to me. The LoS is openly racist. The Flaggers official policy is that they are not; yet there seems to be quite a bit of “cross-fertilization” between the two. My reading of many of the Lost Causers is that, while they don’t intend to be racist, they are so immersed in this deal they don’t understand just what is so racist about their positions.

  • BorderRuffian Jul 10, 2014

    I believe the UDC are (and by contract) the custodians of Lee Chapel and have been for near 100 years. Mr. Ruscio may not be able to do what he plans to do – or, at least, not the only one who has a say in the matter.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

      Well, you would be wrong. The relationship with the UDC is explained here as related to the original flags that were once displayed in the the chapel. Best of luck with the protest.

      • Ken Noe Jul 10, 2014

        Reading this link I am struck that the flag plan President Ruscio announced yesterday simply means that W&L will finally fulfill its end of a bargain made with the MoC and the SCV back in the nineties.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

          Great point, Ken.

          • Pete Boykins Jul 10, 2014

            Gentlemen,
            Borrowing the famous line from Cool Hand Luke:
            “What we have here, is a total lack of basic understanding of the true and complete historical record regarding the Lee Chapel Flag display”

            Ok, in 1930, the United Confederacy Daughters asked for and received permission to place on display 12 war era battle flags in the chamber wherein the Valentine sculpture of General Robert E Lee lay in repose.
            This was done according to the 1930 documentation, as a memorial to General Lee.

            Thruoughout the entire 84 years between then and now, the flags have remained on display, either the actual war period or facsimiles of the same, thus maintaining the integrity and purpose of the memorial alive and ongoing.

            Mr Noe alludes to the “bargain” made in the 1990s, although incomplete and factually incorrect. The terms reached via the “Agreement” was signed between Robin Reed of the Museum of the Confederacy, and WLU President John Elrod on January 1st, 1997. It was to provide reproduction versions of the 12 flags so to allow the MoC to reclaim and restore the damage done, and to then return “2, possibly 3″ of the restored war period flags.

            At no time in any discussions was the relocation of the Lee Chapel memorial to General Lee flag display mentioned. In fact in paragraphs #1, 4, and 5 – it specifically refers to the Lee Chapel exclusively, not the Museum.

            So, a handful of Law School students come along, and threaten civil unrest if their demands of flag removals are not met. President Ruscio complies. Thus, removing the historic memorial to General Robert E Lee, breaking both the original 1930 agreement and the 1997 agreement, and further breaking the Commonwealth of Virginia code section 15.2 – 1812.

            • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

              So, a handful of Law School students come along, and threaten civil unrest if their demands of flag removals are not met. President Ruscio complies. Thus, removing the historic memorial to General Robert E Lee, breaking both the original 1930 agreement and the 1997 agreement, and further breaking the Commonwealth of Virginia code section 15.2 – 1812.

              As members of the community those students were in their right to voice their concerns. Again, to suggest that the president simply complied with all of their demands suggests that you have not read either the original list of concerns and/or the president’s reply.

              Thruoughout the entire 84 years between then and now, the flags have remained on display, either the actual war period or facsimiles of the same, thus maintaining the integrity and purpose of the memorial alive and ongoing.

              That is, of course, your interpretation.

              I am not familiar with the code referenced in your comment. I will leave such matters to others to work out. It is of no concern of mine. Once again I come back to the fact that original flags will be on display at Lee Chapel.

            • Andy Hall Jul 10, 2014

              “. . . and further breaking the Commonwealth of Virginia code section 15.2 – 1812.”

              If you’re referring to Code of Virginia § 15.2-1812.1. Action for damage to memorials for war veterans, the code provides that in the case of a privately-owned facility or memorial, the owner of the facility or memorial can initiate a civil action for damages. In other words, Washington and Lee University has the option to sue Washington and Lee University, over damage allegedly done to Washington and Lee University property by Washington and Lee University.

              I’m guessing Washington and Lee University won’t go that route, but it’s good to know they can.

              • Brooks D. Simpson Jul 10, 2014

                Tripp Lewis will manage the defense fund.

                • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

                  I fully anticipate a joint SCV/Flagger/League of the South protest.

                  • R. Alex Raines Jul 10, 2014

                    Pity I went to law school and practice in Colorado. If I’d gone to Virginia instead, I’d be begging to join up and help these wonderful law students.

                    • Kevin Levin Jul 10, 2014

                      Well, if it ever comes to a lawsuit (which I am certainly confident it won’t) I would love to see the W&L law students defend the school. Whatever they know about the law should be sufficient to deal with these yahoos.

    • Betty Giragosian Jul 10, 2014

      No, the UDC are not the custodians of Lee Chapel. There is no contract.

  • Michael Lynch Jul 10, 2014

    Strange to see self-appointed defenders of Southern heritage who prefer fake Confederate flags to the genuine article. Strange also to see them denounce a college president who meets a demand to apologize for Lee by praising him.

  • Andy Hall Jul 10, 2014

    “President Ruscio must resign or be removed from office if this decision is not immediately reversed.”

    Or what? The Flaggers will force them out like they did Alex Neyerges at the VMFA, Waite Rawls at the MoC, and Mimi Elrod in Lexington? Oh, wait. . . .

    Anyone else would be expected to follow through on such ludicrous, over-the-top posturing. But then, the Flaggers have never been big on accountability, individually or collectively.

  • Mary Martin Jul 13, 2014

    Hmm – yep, makes sense that the enemies list should be retroactive. Virginia Flaggers should slap a big ol’ heritage violation on R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, U.C.V. members (now long gone) for failing to mount battleflags on the exterior of the Soldiers’ Home chapel for 54 years. (But where to protest? Guess they can shake their fists at the vet’s graves in Hollywood.) And on the Commonwealth of Va. after 1941 until the SCV “corrected” this egregious oversight by putting up replicas in 1993.

  • Julian Jul 14, 2014

    Kevin – sadly it would seem like a case of Brazil 1 Germany 7 with the Virginia Flaggers being caught on the back foot – surely this would have been a time for an adroit use of social media and street theatre – a nation wide call out of reenactors – a witty and swift and inventive response, some captivating street theatre. Some may have been asking for this as the explanation on FB implies

    compare with collectors and fans who forced Warner Brothers to back down on plans to remove the Battleflag from the General Lee car on the Dukes of Hazzard for much the same changing cultural reasons as the flags have been removed from around the tomb. Is it an age group thing or being “digital natives”?

    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/the-general-lee-of-the-dukes-of-hazzard-will-not-change-its-stripes-or-stars/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    from their FB page – extracts

    “Many of you have asked about when we are going to “March on Washington & Lee” and start flagging them. Many of you see this outward expression of what we do, and may not realize that it is a powerful tool, which is typically held in our arsenal and used when all other efforts are exhausted. ….

    Of course, the actual removal last week has kicked our efforts into overdrive. We have contacted W&L officials again, and our next communication will let them know that if the flags are not returned by our deadline, flaggings will begin. In the meantime, we are making trips to Lexington to scout the area, investigate all pertinent laws and regulations, and preparing literature and talking points so that our Flaggers, and those who join us, have everything needed to be successful. We never step onto the sidewalk until we have covered all of our bases and have all needed resources lined up and available. Everything from parking, to bathroom accessibility is covered.

    …..

    Stay tuned for more updates with additional contact info. We must keep the skeer on through phone calls, emails, and letters…and have flags ready for the call…it’s coming soon!”

  • Julian Jul 19, 2014

    http://news.blogs.wlu.edu/2014/07/17/frequently-asked-questions-about-president-ruscios-recent-community-letter/

    This is the very recent blog post by W&L with explication in greater detail of why the flags were removed and also the status of Lee’s memory in the history of the University. It seeks to correct other statements circulating in the blogosphere about the College’s relationship to Lee. Extracts are posted on the W&L facebook page and this time they are letting negative comments remain – it is about 75/25 split with the majority wanting the flags returned and being angry.

    An article in a Lexington newspaper suggested that students were split 50/50 over whether the flags should be returned but there was a far higher approval rating for the way in which Ruscio has handled the controversy

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