By Coby W. Dillard
If I told you there were blacks that participated in Virginia’s post-Reconstruction constitutional convention and served as state legislators during that period, you’d probably find that fact worthy of memorial; worthy of some sort of honor and remembrance. You’d probably want to know who these men were, and learn more about them.
A bill introduced by Del. Jennifer McClellan (Richmond) would have started that educational process. Her bill would have authorized plaques to be placed in the Capitol to commemorate the efforts of these individuals, many of whom probably came to know freedom only after the Civil War. Sadly, McClellan’s bill was killed in the House Rules Committee, after a proposal by a Republican delegate raised a concern over what “precedent” allowing their memorial might set.
I – probably like a great many of Virginians – know very little of these men. I don’t, however, think it’s too farfetched to believe that some of them may have been Republican themselves. Why? Because in the post-Civil War era, the Republican Party was the natural home for the newly freed slaves, many of whom joined out of a sense of loyalty to President Lincoln. Until the Great Depression, blacks claimed the GOP as their own.
That a Republican sees fit to deny the honor of memorial to men who helped to rebuild our Commonwealth – and who could have shared his affiliation in name, if not in deed – speaks all too loudly of how my party today fails to not understand our history, but to acknowledge those on whose shoulders we as Republicans now stand. What should have presented as an obvious opportunity to reclaim to our ranks men whose names were lost, but whose work lives on, became little more than the effort of a legislative majority to deny a sensible, uncontroversial bill for little visible reason.
Thankfully, a bill by state Sen. Henry Marsh, which passed in the Senate, is on its way to consideration in the House of Delegates.
As Dr. King would say, the time is always ripe to do what’s right. Here’s an opportunity to put partisanship aside, and do the right thing.
I hope my party takes it.
Coby W. Dillard is a local Republican activist and the co-founder of the Hampton Roads Tea Party. He can be reached at email@example.com.