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Local News in Virginia

– In Danville – Confederate Flag Comes Down

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

Soon after the Danville City Council voted 7-2 on July 6 to remove the Confederate flag from city-owned property, its ruling was executed.

A city utility bucket truck drove up onto the grounds of the Sutherlin Mansion, a history museum run by the city, and stopped at the memorial obelisk that has been topped by the Confederate flag for the past 20 years.

A city police officer was lifted in the bucket and removed the flag from the pole in steady rain.

The officer then folded and placed the flag in a mailing envelope for return to Wayne Byrd, president of the Heritage Preservation Association, which has maintained and replaced the flag since the memorial was built 20 years ago.

The city’s action makes it the state’s first city to remove the rebel flag from city-owned property. The council voted 7-2 to approve a new ordinance allowing only national, state, municipal and MIA/POW flags to be flown on city-owned property.

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The council’s vote and the removal of the flag came after weeks of controversy, where groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy and the Heritage Foundation, fought off calls by civil rights groups like the SCLC and United Front for Justice (UFJ) to pull down the flag.

The debate and controversy over this issue is far from over, according to Rev. William A. Keen, President of the State chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Keen’s assertion is correct. Byrd has announced that his organization, as well as members of the Sons of

Confederate Veterans, are working with attorney Fred Taylor, of Bush & Taylor PC in Suffolk, to file a lawsuit over the removal of the flag.

Byrd said he feels the removal broke state laws about war memorials as well as the agreement the city made with the HPA in 1994 about the memorial, which included the flag flying above the obelisk.

Taylor said he expects legal paperwork to be filed shortly – emphasizing it was a matter of “when, not if.”

Although the flag was removed from the city-owned property, the obelisk or historic marker which held the pole where the flag flew, still sits on the Sutherlin Mansion grounds.

Black leaders said their target was the flag and have not decided on whether they will seek to remove it.

Keen said that supporters of the flag’s removal were surprised and pleased at the 7-2 vote to remove the banner. All three of the Black members including the mayor voted to remove it.

Keen said the lobbying effort by the SCLC and other groups was effective, despite pressure from opponents of its removal on council members fearful of offending them and the political retribution.

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Last week’s council meeting was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. traditionally. But, on the day of the critical vote, according to Keen, members of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans converged on the council’s chamber three hours early “to fill up the seats, to shut out the opposing voters.”

“If I had not gotten to the city hall at 4 p.m., I don’t think I would have gotten in,” said Keen. “I had to stay there until the council convened. We did manage to get some of our people in the chambers. But a rule was made that if you left, you could not return.”

Keen said that while Byrd and his allies are organizing, the SCLC and Black leaders will be seeking to energize the Black community and others who support the effort that led to the removal of the Confederate flag on public land.

He said now that the flag has been removed, Blacks may not patronize the Sutherlin Museum. He said Black leaders are working on seeking educational programming at the facility on voting, civil rights and the constitutional rights of citizens.

The confrontation over the Confederate flag in Virginia is significant, since Danville was the last city to play the role of capital of the Confederate States of America in 1865.

In the final days of the Civil War, the Confederate government moved from Richmond to Danville to set up shop, shortly before the rebel forces surrendered in April of 1865.

Keen said that his allies are also seeking to plan a program at the Sutherlin Museum on September 22 to observe the announcement 150 years ago of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Also, he is hoping that either in September or January, supporters of the removal of the flag will call for residents of all colors to fly an American flag. He said this will counter the move by opponents of its removal who are calling for more display of the flag at their homes and businesses.

Also, along with the proposed suit by the opponents of the flag’s removal, Keen said that Byrd and his allies have called for the removal of a plaque on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge in Danville.

“This fight is not over,” said Keen. They are angry and they are well organized. They still believe in what that flag stands for which is oppression. But we have been fighting for decades over this issue and we will continue. We must.”

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