By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The first showdown in Virginia over the growing call to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings will take place in Danville, when the city council meets this week to vote on the future of the banner at its Museum of Fine Arts.
The Danville council is prepared to approve an ordinance that would banish all flags from city-owned properties – with the exception of the flags of the United States, Virginia, Danville, and the MIA/POW movement.
Civil rights groups like the SCLC and members of the Black clergy support its removal while the Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Heritage Preservation Association oppose it.
This stand-off is the culmination of a battle since the 1990s over the presence of the flag at the Danville museum.
Further, it is the first time a Virginia city council will take a vote on removing a rebel flag, since the shooting of nine Black members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Portsmouth City Council also is considering removing a Confederate monument from its downtown area
The young White man who allegedly shot the nine worshipers during a prayer service supported many racist ideals, including oppression and destruction of Blacks.
If the council should vote to remove the flag, groups opposing its removal say they will sue the city.
The three groups have already lost a federal court suit which was filed to deter the state from removing the Confederate symbol from state license plates.
Last weekend, over 300 opponents of the flag’s removal held a rally near the museum in downtown Danville.
The groups say they will be out in force at this week’s council meeting.
Rev. William Avon Keen, the state President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), told the Guide that his side also is working on turning out people at the council meeting who support the flag’s removal.
Keen said there are nine members of council. Three of the members, including the mayor, are African-American.
“We know we have the Black members’ support,” said Keen.
“We need two more to get the five we need to achieve our goal. At this point (Monday, August 3), after talking to two of the White members, I think we have five. We will see Thursday night.”
Keen says Vice Mayor Gary Miller and John Gilstrap may join the three Blacks to support the measure, including the city’s Black Mayor Sherman Saunders, Alonzo Jones and Larry Campbell.
“The opposing side has been threatening and trying to intimidate the council members,” said Keen. “We expect the outcome will be dramatic and emotional regardless of the vote. There are strong emotions on both side of this issue.”
Danville is now the scene of what current civil rights activists and historians call the continued skirmishes of the U.S. Civil War which was ended 150 years ago this past spring.
The controversial Civil War flag was the battle banner of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many southern Whites say it is a benign symbol of southerners fighting for states’ rights.
Opponents of the flag say it is symbolic of the southern states’ fighting to retain the right to own slaves, which triggered the conflict.
After the war, especially during the Reconstruction and during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the flag was symbolic of southern resistance to desegregation and protecting the legal rights of Blacks
To read entire story, pick up the New Journal and Guide, August 6 – August 12 issue at various locations.