Thursday, June 29, 2017

County’s Effort To Showcase Diverse Civil War History Upended By Va. Constitution

Across the South,  communities  large and small are debating whether to retain or remove the monuments from parks, or names  from buildings honoring the cause and the men who fought in the Civil War.

In New Orleans, the mayor and city council have received death threats, as workers removed  statues of Robert E. Lee and others.

It has been cleaned away, but close to home,  the word  “Shame” was sprayed painted across the base of one in Norfolk.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, torch marchers were organized by supporters of the monuments one night and opponents the next.

But just miles down the road from Charlottesville,  in Palmyra, the seat of Fluvanna County, residents are seeking a more civil and historic compromise on the issue.

In a small circle of land commonly known as  Palmyra Park sits an eight-foot block of stone, honoring those soldiers who fought in the Civil War. It was built  in 1901 during the height of the effort by southern communities to build such structures.

In 2015, Board of Supervisor Chair Mozell Booker, at the behest of residents, considered a  proposal to name the space Confederate Park. In fact some signs were put up stating so.
Booker wanted a more inclusive name  and  Memorial Park or Civil War Park was proposed.

But a  survey of the  county’s residents indicated that a majority of them wanted it  named Confederate Park.  And many of them submitted some nasty comments explaining their view.
Of the five members of the Board of Supervisors, Booker, who now is the Vice Chair, is  the lone African-American  member.

The board eventually adhered to the view of the residents and voted to name the space, Civil War Park.

In a  move  in 2015 to provide some historic and community diversity, Booker proposed that a small marker honoring the  Emancipation Proclamation be positioned next to the one honoring rebellious southerners.

She said her idea was inspired by the  April 2015 commemoration of the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of the liberation of Richmond’s slaves at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, during the height of the Civil War, freeing Black slaves in states in rebellion against the Union.

Virginia was one of them and Richmond served as the rebel capital.

“I do not want the park to represent one side of history  because that history is a part of White residents of the county as well as mine,” she told the Guide recently.  “But I wanted to tell  the whole story of the  war and why it was fought, which was slavery. The proclamation  is an important document because it  freed my Black people.”

With only one dissenting vote, Booker’s proposal was approved. In fact, the County’s Historical Society was  set with the  wording to be embossed on the stone as well as an additional educational tool placed at the site to explain the significance of it  and the war.

The marker will be stone which was excavated  from a nearby quarry.

Booker said it has a distinguishing split in its middle, a feature, which symbolizes the  divide fostered by the Civil War and the eventual reunification.

However, now she said the  County Attorney has told the Board of Supervisors that a  provision of the Virginia Constitution forbids a community from placing a Confederate marker or monument  in the same space as  one related to the Union.

“But the Emancipation Proclamation was not about war, it was about freeing Black slaves,” Booker said.

Booker said   she sent a letter, through her state delegate, Lee Ware, seeking a legal opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to clarify the Constitutional provision.

“I was told by Delegate Ware, he has submitted the letter to Mr. Herring,” said Booker. “He said he was hopeful it will move forward. My vision is to honor not only the confederate story, but  the story of my people.

“We have not done a good job of educating people, Black and White, about the Civil War, the Proclamation, Reconstruction or the Civil Rights Movement, for that matter,” said Booker. “People are afraid to tell the story, fearing young people’s emotions will get revved up.

“But I believe our  teachers in a thoughtful and sensitive way can explain our histories.”

Sitting between Richmond and Charlottesville, Route 64 runs through Fluvanna County, the home of  26,000  people  and 15 percent of whom are Black.

Booker is a native of the county. She married another native, Jerome Booker, and became an Air Force spouse following him around the world.

The couple returned home in 1975 and she landed jobs in education at the University of Virginia   and with the public school  divisions.

During that time her husband became the first African-American County Board Supervisor.   Her husband died in 2001. She later ran for the Board in 2010 and won a seat.

She said the Lake Monticello Development  caused the county’s population to explode with Exburbanites who work at UVA, a military school in the area  and  small businesses.

“Other than the monument, I have been working on  getting water lines throughout the county to replace the wells,” said Booker. “This would help with economic development.

“This will be my last term on the Board of Supervisors,” said Booker, who is 75 now.   “I am eager to pass  the torch.  I want to recruit another African-American  to run for my seat. We need some representation.  But it has not been easy.”

Booker  said it is hard even to get Black people to the leadership conferences to hear her and others talk about Black ties to the county.

She owned a Rosenwald school building, which she sold to a friend, who converted it  into a small   community center  and history museum.

“There are some White people who know our history better than us because they come to the historic presentations on the subject,” said Booker.  “But I am hoping for a marker for the Proclamation  placed at the park. I am hoping it will  help tell all of the story about the Civil War, not just one side of it.”