Group protests Suffolk mayor’s silence on Confederate proclamation

By Linda McNatt
The Virginian-Pilot
© May 19, 2008


There’s another storm over Suffolk. And it has nothing to do with tornadoes.

The Tom Smith Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans is protesting that April wasn’t named by the mayor as Confederate History and Heritage Month. Mayor Linda Johnson didn’t respond when they requested a proclamation, a spokesman for the SCV camp said.

The issue has a history. In 2002, they made national headlines when former Mayor Curtis Milteer signed a proclamation to recognize the month.

In 2003, former Mayor Dana Dickens called the history month "divisive." He refused to sign. He refused again in 2004.

In 2005, it was former Mayor Bobby Ralph’s turn, and he agreed to make the designation. April 2005 was Confederate History and Heritage Month in Suffolk. In 2006, Ralph changed his mind and said no. Later that same year, he lost his bid for re-election to City Council.

Last year, it was Johnson’s turn, and she said no. This year, Suffolk’s mayor will for the first time be elected by popular vote. Johnson said she would have said no again.

"I had ancestors in Appomattox, and I respect the heritage," Johnson said. "I understand that the Confederacy is very much a part of our history, but it’s not the thing to do. It is divisive at times."

The problem is, said former SCV commander Lee Hart, that the camp officially asked Johnson for the proclamation, and she ignored their request.

Johnson said no ill will was meant against the organization that celebrates and honors its Confederate ancestors. Other things – such as a tornado that struck the city late last month and the controversy over home assessments – took precedent.

"We tried to get an appointment with her early on," said Hart. "But we couldn’t get it until March 31, at 2 p.m. A little late."

They even changed their tactics. Instead of asking the mayor to recognize only Confederate veterans, the group asked that April be used to honor all veterans.

"It’s only fair," Hart said. "Everything else gets recognized. Her job would have been to treat us respectfully. I’m highly insulted."

Johnson said it was unintentional. She said she tried to call Jason Chipman, commander of the SCV camp, but she said she believes she must have written down his telephone number incorrectly.

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