Rally protests Washington & Lee flag decision

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Heather Harris

Less than a month after Washington and Lee University in Lexington bowed to student demands and removed Confederate battle flags from the Lee Chapel, the Stonewall Brigade Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans held a rally in protest of the school’s decision.

Since the removal of the flags from Lee Chapel in early July, the university has faced heavy criticism. About 3 days after the flags came down, the Stonewall Brigade Camp began planning for a rally.

On July 26, the Stonewall Brigade Camp’s rally at Hopkins Green and the public forum that followed drew a crowd of approximately 400 supporters. Attendees came from surrounding states and Ohio, and even attracted tourists from Europe who happened to be in the area already.

“We had less than 2 weeks, really, to put it together. We’re satisfied with what we were able to pull off ,” said Brandon Dorsey of the SBC.

Among the special guest speakers at the event were former Georgia congressman Ben Jones, known for his role as Cooter on “The Dukes of Hazard”; Dr. Marshall DeRosa, a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University; and David Chaltas, an educator and Robert E. Lee interpreter. DeRosa gave a presentation titled “The Heroical Robert E. Lee: Under Attack by the Useful Idiots of the Ruling Class”, which included an open discussion afterward for attendees to offer suggestions and voice their opinions.

Although the rally was a peaceful event with no altercations, Washington and Lee University shut down the Lee Chapel and visitor parking lot over the weekend due to reports of threatening emails, phone calls and letters.

“They claimed that they received some major threats… which I think was just a PR move. If you’ve received those kinds of threats, have you turned them over to the police? We wouldn’t want to be associated with that. They refused to answer that question,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also stated that Fletcher Avenue was blocked off, preventing access to the neighboring Virginia Military Institute, which houses a museum that is normally open to the public on a daily basis.

“If people don’t do as they wish, they have the ability to cut it off. They’ve tried to avoid the press about this as much as possible,” Dorsey said.

The Stonewall Brigade Camp hopes to approach Washington and Lee University again about having an open forum of discussion, an offer that was previously rejected by the school. Attendees of the rally also had several suggestions, which the SBC is looking to pursue.

In April of this year, a group of 6 minority students from Washington and Lee’s law school issued a list of 4 mandates to the university’s Board of Trustees. Calling themselves “The Committee”, the students demanded that the school fully recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and issue an official apology for both the university’s and Robert E. Lee’s participation in slavery.

The students also demanded that the school “stop allowing neo-Confederates to march on campus with Confederate flags on Lee-Jackson Day”, and to not permit the groups to hold events at Lee Chapel. Additionally, they demanded that all Confederate flags be removed from the chapel and the campus. They expected the demands to be met by September 1.

The removal of the flags first came to the SBC’s attention when a number of their members, who are graduates of Washington and Lee, received an alumni newsletter that mentioned the battle flags being taken down, saying that the matter was only of interest to the school community.

[The university] did it in the summer without a press release, I suppose hoping it would go without much notice,” Dorsey said. “You can’t really hide behind that excuse.”

A 15-year-old boy who was attempting to visit the Lee Chapel and crypt was turned away until he flipped his shirt inside-out because of the Confederate flag graphic. The report was confirmed by two witnesses that day.

“There’s thousands of people that visit that chapel every year and most of them are going to be Civil War enthusiasts,” Dorsey said. “At a university, you typically think you have freedom of expression.”

The members of the Stonewall Brigade Camp believe the university owes it to their students and to the community to live up to their mission statement and motto.

“If the students have so many misconceptions about Robert E. Lee, it’s time to do something to fix that,” Dorsey said.

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