ALABAMA: Citizens Divided on Confederate Holiday
Alabama state offices closed Monday for an annual holiday that some residents celebrate, others would like to eliminate and some just don’t understand: Jefferson Davis’s birthday.
The Confederacy’s first and only president was captured in Georgia in 1865 and accused of treason and helping to plot to kill President Abraham Lincoln. He was imprisoned for two years but never tried, and shortly before his death in 1889, he advised Southerners: “The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations.”
Many never put the man behind them. Celebrations of his birthday—June 3, 1808—are held throughout the South, and he is memorialized in statues, parks and highways in places including Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
But Alabama is the last to have a legal state holiday devoted exclusively to Davis’s birthday, setting aside the first Monday in June. The distinction is divisive, as it serves as a particularly powerful relic of the Confederacy and its associations with slavery and disunion.
Larisa Thomason, 50 years old, a writer and web consultant near Huntsville, Ala., in a recent blog suggested revamping the holiday. “There are so many more worthy people to honor—like Waldo Semon, the inventor of vinyl,” she said, or other Alabama natives: Helen Keller, author Harper Lee and blues man W.C. Handy. “It’s worshiping the cult of the Confederacy,” said Ms. Thomason, a seventh-generation Alabama native whose ancestors were Confederate soldiers. “The battle is fought every year, but it’s a losing battle.”
Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, said more than 30,000 state employees get the day off, except for essential personnel such as state law enforcement. Ms. Ardis didn’t comment on the government’s reasons for keeping the holiday.
Honors abound in other states, too. His native Kentucky holds a Miss Confederacy pageant at the Jefferson Davis monument in Fairview. Mississippi, which he represented as a U.S. senator, elaborately renovated his Biloxi home, Beauvoir, and built a presidential library. Even his pre-Civil War stint as U.S. secretary of war is still honored with an eponymous peak in Nevada and markers in a park in Washington state.
Many Alabamians see merit in keeping the holiday. When Mike Cason, a reporter at Alabama Media Group, asked readers of AL.com last summer whether the holiday should exist, he said he got 2,500 responses and about two-thirds, 1,700, said the holiday should be preserved.
Among advocates is D.A. Bass-Frazier, 59, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group with Confederate lineage that helped plan the Jefferson Davis Highway in the early decades of the 20th century. “People are afraid of Southern history because it is a flash point, a symbol of racism and hate. But it’s not,” said Ms. Bass-Frazier, a Mobile-based lawyer. “There’s just a lack of historical understanding, knee-jerk reaction and fear by people screaming political correctness. This is who I am and who my family was.”
She is a walking encyclopedia of trivia about Davis. (“His dog’s name was Traveler.”) In December, on one of her many trips to Davis’s Mississippi home, she stumped an actor dressed as Davis with an arcane fact about his time at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She says she was “tickled” in late May when she was watching Jeopardy on TV. The clue: “Pierce’s war secretary, he soon ended up in a war, all right…with the United States.”
David Baker, president of the Calhoun County, Ala., chapter of the NAACP, said he resents the holiday. “They lost the Civil War and we became united,” he said. “We’re supposed to be one nation under God. When people keep honoring the Confederacy, we are no longer one nation under God.”
VIRGINIA: Group Flies Second Huge Flag Near I-95
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A second Confederate battle flag is flying high over Interstate 95 in Stafford, despite the massive backlash over last year’s flag, flown in Chester. The Virginia Flaggers group raised this additional flag on Saturday, re-igniting a debate over this controversial symbol’s meaning.
The Virginia Flaggers say they wanted to commemorate nearly 246,000 Confederate ancestors who fought in battles around the Fredericksburg area, such as in Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and the Wilderness.
The second flag is both taller and bigger than the first, standing 80 feet high, well above the tree line, and measuring 20 by 30 feet in size.
Virginia Flagger Barry Isenhour says donations only grew since last year’s flag became widely publicized.
“A lot of donations flew in throughout the country and actually from overseas,” said Isenhour.
Last September’s flag raising drew fierce opposition, even though the move is totally legal, with the flag standing on private property. More than 24,000 people signed an online petition against the Confederate flag in Chester. A huge American flag flew in response, near Richmond City Hall.
Still, the Virginia Flaggers maintain they’re about Southern heritage, and not slavery.
“If you read your American history, it was the most American thing to do… to rebel against the tyranny of a government that was oppressive…had nothing to do with slaves,” continued Isenhour.
Virginia House Delegate Jennifer McClellan is vice chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, aiming to preserve civil rights and history within the state. McClellan says the Confederate flag symbolizes slavery, for many.
“If you read the actual documents of succession, that the states passed when they left the Union, it was all about slavery,” said Representative McClellan.
McClellan believes the only way for the South to move forward is to truly recognize the past for what it was.
“If they are going to memorialize their ancestors, then they need to embrace the truth about their ancestors. And we will not be able to heal as a society until we do that, and we have an honest conversation and move forward,” continued Representative McClellan.
“(We must) remind people of our Confederate heritage, meaning the Confederate soldiers who fought for freedom,” countered Isenhour.
Last year, the Virginia director of the NAACP was quoted saying he was “appalled …and deeply embarrassed” by the Confederate flag being raised in Chester.
The Virginia Flaggers say they have plans to continue to raise more flags, in the future.
TENNESSEE — Civil War Park One Step Closer
BLOUNTVILLE — A plan to lure tourists to downtown Blountville by using the city’s historic architecture and Civil War history is taking shape.
City leaders are moving closer to having a Civil War Memorial Park to commemorate the Battle of Blountville and a tour.
The Bristol Herald Courier reports that the plan is to build sidewalks from the Civil War Memorial Park into downtown Blountville so visitors can take a walking tour, learn about the battle and see historic buildings.
“We are trying to offer more to people here in downtown Blountville,” Sullivan County Archives and Tourism Director Shelia Steele Hunt said. “We know the history is here. We just have to make it visible. It’s amazing to think what Blountville will be in five years. You will see tourists in Blountville.”
A $385,000 grant given from the state in 2010 was the seed for the project. Part of the plan is to restore the abandoned sheriff’s building and turn it into an information center with the grant money. But restoring the old sheriff’s home has been challenging due to the historic nature of the building, Sullivan County Planning and Codes Department Director Ambre Torbett said. The project is about to be rebid, and Torbett believes the information center will be completed within two years.
Two landscape architects are working on designs for the military park, and one of them says he is close to finishing.
While designs for the park are under way, restoration is being done on the historic Deery Inn. The Sullivan County Historical Preservation Association has already restored two cabins behind the inn to attract tourists. One was transformed into a one-room schoolhouse, and the other building was turned into a weaving center. Plans are in the works to relocate a historic barn to the property.
-(Bluntville) Daily Times