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Front Royal Unite’s statement on Warren County’s Question 3 results

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The results of Question 3 mark the beginning—not the end—of the debate on Front Royal’s Confederate statue. They do not give us a decision; rather, they tell us what we knew all along upon founding Front Royal Unites: that the time is ripe for a challenging but crucial conversation about our grim history of racial inequality.

And they remind us that what we need right now from our elected officials is for them to do their job: to serve as leaders for all of our residents, especially those most affected by this harrowing history and its devastating effects, which linger to this day. The Founding Fathers created a representative democracy, rather than a direct democracy, for a reason: for elected officials to exercise their wisdom and experience to legislate for the benefit of all citizens, even when those decisions conflict with the majority opinion; otherwise, why have elected officials like our Board of Supervisors at all? Let us note that this referendum was no consensus, and the Board has a duty not to turn its back on the almost one quarter of our citizens who are calling for change, many of whom have long been marginalized and ignored.

At this moment, it is worth reflecting that our greatest moments of progress for justice and equality came not through “nonbinding referendums,” but only after long struggles undertaken by committed groups of citizens—often in the minority—to hold their representatives accountable, from marching in the streets to testifying in Congress and, when all else failed, even litigating in the Supreme Court.

Perhaps one might call these trailblazers “troublemakers,” but we know that had Rosa Parks simply given up her bus seat that fateful day, or had Martin Luther King, Jr. wrung his hands instead of marching in the streets of Washington and sharing his Dream with the world, we might not have the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and now sexual orientation. Had 300 people not gathered at the Seneca Falls Convention to kick off a decades-long crusade for women’s right to vote in 1848, and then persisted despite failed congressional proposals, many of us might still be relegated to the kitchen instead of heading to the ballot box with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. And after white leaders in the women’s suffrage movement refused to incorporate Black women into their fight, had Ida B. Wells just accepted her place at the back of the nation’s first-ever women’s suffrage parade, perhaps Black women would have been left behind.

Had these historical heroes acquiesced to a simple majority vote, we’d have quietly given in to the status quo—slavery, disenfranchisement, segregation—time and time again. Without such perseverance by the few to keep the government working for all, democracy “of the people, by the people, and for the people” will fail.

We know from our own harrowing history that Warren County has left its Black citizens behind before, being one of the last localities in the entire state to desegregate during Massive Resistance. When one searches online for “Massive Resistance,” Warren County appears at the top of the Wikipedia page, forever cementing our reputation for the world. Across the country, more than 100 Confederate statues have been taken down or moved since the 2015 Charleston church massacre. In another 50 years, does Warren County want to be remembered as a champion of civil rights, or yet again as the lone holdout that refused to recognize the damage inflicted by the institution of slavery and the Civil War?

Proponents of the statue remaining in place have attempted to rewrite history to conform to their idyllic fantasies of the Confederacy. However, there is no denying the true history of the Confederate States, which waged their war against the United States for the express purpose of preserving slavery. This disturbing truth resounds in the words of Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens in his “Cornerstone” speech: “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

Like hundreds of other Confederate monuments located on public property such as town squares and courthouse lawns throughout the South, Warren County’s statue was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Despite its assertions that it has “stayed quietly in the background,” the UDC has a long history of promulgating the dangerous “Lost Cause” ideology that downplays slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, leaving more than 42 percent of Americans believing this false narrative. The UDC’s disinformation campaigning played a major role in thwarting even meager protections for Black Americans during Reconstruction. In the early 1900s, the UDC continued to assert white supremacy and terrorize Black people during the Jim Crow era through the construction of Confederate statues and, dissatisfied with their success, actually put up a monument to commemorate the KKK in 1926.

Thus, despite claims to the contrary, Front Royal’s statue isn’t serving to enlighten anyone on the Confederacy’s dark history. In its more than 100 years of existence, it has only further obfuscated the reality that the Civil War was fought for the South’s quest to uphold the institution of slavery.

Further, our courthouse is our County’s seat of justice, yet the statue celebrates the so-called patriotism of the Confederacy—whose existence, by its very nature, was an act of treachery—through the lettering on its base. The statue supposedly honors veterans, yet its prominence at our courthouse insults the memory of the other veterans honored there, who fought for the United States of America while the Confederacy fought against it. Though many of the names on the statue were unlikely slave owners themselves, America’s unique outlook is one of aspiration. Countless soldiers fought for the Confederacy not because they owned slaves, but because they supported the institution of chattel slavery, hoping one day to be prosperous enough to have their own plantation that would have required slave labor.

Importantly, advocates for the statue remaining in place have failed to demonstrate that they would face real harm from its relocation to a more suitable location, such as a museum or Confederate graveyard, where they could continue to visit it as often as they desire. Rather, they have relied on the argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacy that the statue has stood at our courthouse for over 100 years and therefore should remain, which is not an argument at all, but the absence of one. Would they say the same of slavery?

The costs of the statue remaining on public land, on the other hand, are clear. Every day that it stands, it serves as a perpetual reminder to Black folks that they were once considered mere property themselves. Just recently, a Richmond circuit court even declared that efforts to stop the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument there actually conflict with our state’s current public policy, recognizing that “testimony overwhelmingly established the need of the southern citizenry to establish a monument to their ‘Lost Cause,’ and to some degree their whole way of life, including slavery.” Yet Virginia continues to spend up to 9 million in taxpayer dollars maintaining Confederate graves, including hundreds of thousands being funneled directly to the UDC. The danger of the UDC, and our government’s funding of them, are elucidated by Professor Jalane Schmidt of the University of Virginia: “They created an ideology which glorified the ‘Old South,’ and dressed this up in seemingly harmless cotillion balls and bake sales. What is harmful about them is that for generations, they vetted textbooks, which were adopted into Southern public schools. These books promoted a false Lost Cause version of history to impressionable young white students, who then grew up to enforce segregation.”

We now turn to present-day Warren County to address the false notion that racism, like slavery, is a relic of our past. Take, for example, the case of former Warren-Page NAACP President Suetta Freeman who, even after surmounting being locked out of schooling by Massive Resistance at Warren County High in 1958, went on to graduate here and embark on a career in auditing, yet had to commute for decades to Northern Virginia because she was unable to secure fair and equal employment in Front Royal. Her experience illustrates the racial inequality that is endemic nationally: on average, Black people only make 62 percent of white people’s salary. Or this year, when a truck drove past the home of a prominent member of our Black community and its driver shouted, “White power!” Or this summer, when a mixed-race child accidentally dropped a hand wipe at Applebee’s and her mother found it returned to their car with the writing, “You asked for this wipe, then left it laying (sic) right where that little peckerhead half-breed dropped it so everyone else could step on it. Though I’m sure your home is filthy and cluttered, we try to keep our town clean.” Or the people of color who visited our town for a work retreat in 2017 and awoke to an effigy of a lynching in their rental’s yard. Or the possibility that if we don’t take action to address injustice now, a name like George Floyd’s could someday be ringing from our own Blue Ridge Mountains.

Now it is time for a decision. Will the Board simply concede to the bandwagon fallacy promulgated by the statue’s defenders, or will it stand up for the marginalized and oppressed? If the latter, it must decide to relocate the Confederate monument to a more appropriate venue, and perhaps replace it with a monument that instead honors the resiliency and contribution of the slaves whose stolen labor drove economic growth in Virginia, as our neighbor Manassas has done. Front Royal Unites urges the Board to take this immediate step for a more inclusive, equitable, and just Front Royal.


Front Royal Unites is a social activist organization dedicated to making sure that regardless of one’s complexion, you aren’t feared, you feel safe, and you get an equal footing. Together we are United. Together we are Front Royal. For more information, visit FrontRoyalUnites.org.

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Opinion

The Last Shall Be First

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When I last wrote and referenced Black Lives Matter, I left out something crucial.

In the post-Vatican II Catholic Church there arose a concept termed “a preferential option for the poor.”  It means that God’s favor rests preferentially on the most injured people in any society. When I first heard the term, I asked what about me?  Doesn’t God love me?  I am not poor.

I have a brother and a sister and if one of them had a terminal illness I would pray for the one who is sick.  My preference would be the sick one.  Any parent would do the same. That does not mean that I do not love both of them equally.  It means the situation is not equal, not God’s love.

It is the same with Black Lives Matter.  White people hearing this phase rather naturally asked, “Don’t all lives matter? – Are you saying that my life does not matter?

All lives do matter, but history, especially recent history, tells us that some lives matter significantly more than others in many societies.  That is the essence of Black Lives Matter – the demand that white people recognize the profound cultural difference between the inherent value put on their lives, versus that of racial or other ethnic minorities.  Racism is a sickness, a disease and a crime, and its victims are black people and other minorities.  To continue to ignore racism’s consequences and its victims is to favor those who commit the crime of racism over the victims of that crime.

God’s favor rests with the victims of the crime of stripping the dignity from human beings, always has and always will.

Tom Howarth
Warren County, Virginia

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Lexington and Concord Battle: When the American Revolution Began – A day to be commemorated by the American Patriot

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Two hundred and forty-six years ago on 19 April 1775, the “shot heard round the world” was fired at the battle of Lexington and Concord. A handful of American farmers, shopkeepers, clergymen, men, and boys engaged the British Army, whose objective was to take and destroy patriot property, powder, and weapons.

Depiction of the Battle of Lexington by William Barnes Wollen, 1910, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Eight of our men, American Patriots, were killed right away defending their rights. Fed-up with the status quo they were determined that they would no longer be molested, abused, brutalized, restricted to their homes, weapons taken, not allowed to speak freely, not allowed to elect their own government leaders… have no representation to determine their taxes, barred from earning a living…nor would they continue to have a standing foreign Army rule their communities and live in their homes, taken by force! They resisted and confronted their oppressors.

There were more than 1,500 British soldiers that they faced that day. A handful of Americans faced the British at dawn. By the end of the battle, nearly 4,000 civilian patriots had joined the fight. Hearing the gunfire they ran toward it. Not away from it. The enemy retreated. Forty-nine Patriots were killed 39 wounded, and 73 British Redcoats killed, 174 wounded. Among our leaders was a young doctor, Dr. Joseph Warren, the man for whom this county, Warren County, Virginia, is named. He arrived at the Lexington Green after hearing gunfire bringing his medical bag to minister to the dying and wounded.

Here in Warren County Dr. Warren’s picture and history now hang in every school and government building. (I am honored to have had a small part in having him remembered in our county.) Two months after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, on June 17, Joseph Warren age 34, would die a martyr’s death fighting at Bunker Hill, so that you and I could live free under a Constitution…a free people… not ruled by a tyrant King! We live free because our forefathers shed their blood for US! Let us never forget them.

The Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Aka Liberty Man-Teacher and Living Historian of the American Revolution History
 Front Royal, VA 

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Clarifying the historical record on voting rights and modern politics

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James Finck’s article has some valid and helpful insights, but he is wrong on his overall argument regarding Voting Rights.  In sum, we need to be reminded that we are not living in 1789 or 1963.  Society and technology have made some advances since then.

Mr. Finck observes that Democrats for many years in the “Solid South” kept blacks from voting.  Let’s be clear.  Senator Richard Russell told President Lyndon Johnson that when the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forwarded after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, was enacted, the Democrats would lose the South forever.  Russell was right. Even currently, 56 years later with the exceptions of Virginia and Georgia, all the Senate seats in the states of the old Confederacy are now Republican held.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prevented changes in voting laws from being imposed with pre-clearance by the Justice Department.  The Act had its intended effect.  Blacks voted and many black citizens were elected to public office throughout the South.

Voting Rights became the Democratic Party’s issue while voter suppression has of late emerged as a Republican strategy.  As late as the administration of George W. Bush, Congress passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act. Ronald Reagan approved an extension. Rep. Bob Goodlatte was a moderate on voting rights in the Congress but toward the end of his career, as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he would not even hold a hearing on the subject.

Did Bob Goodlatte change?  Perhaps, but what clearly changed was the Republican Party.  When the Supreme Court approved the Shelby decision striking down the pre-clearance provisions of the 1965 law, states primarily, but not exclusively, in the South rushed to impose voter suppression laws.

Donald Trump had it right when he said if everyone voted, Republicans would have a hard time winning elections.  Trump didn’t want people to vote in Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia because they had a high number of black voters.  Black voters heavily favor the Democratic Party.  How to beat them?  Prevent them from voting.

Some states have long used mail-in voting.  Military personnel deployed in foreign lands use mail-in voting.  Tom Paine never imagined that the U.S. military would be based in Iraq or anywhere else.  Yes, the Founders wanted it to be hard to vote.  Voting rights for women or blacks, unthinkable.  Mail-in ballots were never an issue until Donald Trump and the Trump Party made it an issue.  Voter fraud was rare, but it became the thin reed on which to base voter suppression.

Has Jim Crow left the building?  Most certainly not and that is why we need a new voting rights law that makes it easier, not harder to vote.  It is alarming that so many of our fellow citizens do not bother to vote.  Voting is the foundation of our democracy.  Those who undermine voting rights undermine democracy itself.

Tom Howarth
Warren County, Virginia

(Note: Tom Howarth holds a Masters’ Degree in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; he taught constitutional government at Northern Virginia Community College; and is a former aide to the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ.)

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Jim Crow Voting?

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historically speaking

Possibly one of the most important fights of this new century is being waged right now in the halls of Congress, in state houses across the nation, and with lesser significance on social media. The question is about voter accessibility and who has the right to determine it.

With COVID-19, voter accessibility was expanded and quite possibility responsible for Biden’s victory. The Democrats who benefited from COVID rules want to make those changes permanent on the federal level, while Republicans who suffered want to return to traditional rules through state governments.  President Biden weighed in last week, calling Republican attempts a return to Jim Crow.

It is worth taking a look at Jim Crow voting practices, but historically speaking, what seems ironic is during Jim Crow Democrats tried to keep Black Americans from voting booths while today Republicans are trying to force them to have to use them.

First things first. What does the Constitution say about voting practices? According to Article I, Section Four, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.” In other words, voting laws are made state by state. The Federal government has passed amendments dealing with who can vote, but not how. Even then, as discussed in an earlier column, the Constitution does not say voting is a right, only that you cannot deny voting based on race, sex, or age. The Constitution does not prohibit states from blocking voters for different reasons.

Gender a good example of this. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, states could choose for themselves if they wanted to allow women to vote. In fact, starting with Colorado, thirteen states, mostly in the west, gave women the right to vote before the Federal Government forced the rest to catch up.

Because states can decide who votes, they can also decide who does not, as long as the reason is not illegal. So, for Jim Crow, the 14th Amendment stated you could not deny anyone the right to vote based on their race, skin color, or condition of previous servitude (used to be a slave). What southern states did was establish poll taxes or education tests as requirements for voting. Since most Black Americans at the time were poor and uneducated, this legally stopped the vast majority of Blacks from casting a ballot. To be legal, states that wanted to stop Blacks from voting also had to stop poor and uneducated White Americans from voting as well. There is some suggestion that some poor whites were willing to give up some political power to retain white supremacy.

With this in mind, are new proposed voting laws in Republican states the same as Jim Crow laws? Biden clearly thinks so. It seems like at the heart of all the laws are two things: mail-in voting and voter IDs. On the surface, these new state laws are saying that in-person voting with an ID is the only way to stop voter fraud. Below the surface, however, they are saying that mail-in voting is allowing Democrats to go door-to-door to collect ballots from those who traditionally do not vote. Democrats are arguing that Republicans are trying to restrict voters, especially Black voters, by making them show up in person. This assertion is that it is harder for the poor to make it to voting stations and afford IDs, while Republicans claim voting is the only official activity allowed without an ID.

Is it like Jim Crow? Yes and no. Republicans are not trying to pass new laws per se. They are trying to retain the laws from before COVID. It is actually Democrats trying to change or keep new election laws. But yes, it is true, Republican laws will limit participation. However, the laws are really just a screen for the real issue that needs to be addressed. Should all people be allowed to vote? This is a difficult question because our instinct in a democracy is to say yes, but we also get the question confused with should all people have the opportunity to vote? Those are different questions.

The Founding Fathers did not find the question difficult. They believed that all people should have the opportunity to vote but that did not mean that all people should be able to. The Founders limited voting only to men who had a stake in society. This was shown by owning property or controlling their own means of survival. If you worked for someone else, then you were not truly free and so did not have voting rights. Property requirements did not deny citizens the opportunity to vote. It was seen and even hoped that all Americans could become property holders and hence vote, but it took some effort on the part of the person.

One other requirement we see across all thirteen states was that the men had to show up. They had to. Most early voting was done by voice. Early in the 19th Century, voters would turn in a piece of paper with their vote, but even then, the votes were published.  At the time, it was believed voters should openly support who they voted for. Even though transportation was more difficult in early America than today and they had a functioning postal service, part of a stake in society was the expectation of showing up.

No person who wants to vote should be denied the privilege to do so. Extending voting days to up to a week should guarantee access, yet the process, at least according to the Founders, should be done in person as intended. Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Voting should not be easy. It should be important. As a bare minimum, voters should at least show up. As for Jim Crow, there are some similarities, but there are those who risked their lives in the 1950s and 1960s for the opportunity to vote in person. Let’s be careful not to compare them to those who want to be able to sit at home and mail in their ballot instead of having wait in line.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Opinion

Where are you this Easter season?

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Jesus said the greatest commandment is that; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus also said; “…Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ya shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). In my letter (Jesus In Valentine’s Day), I suggest that in showing His great love for us by going on the cross, He is saying “Be Mine”; “Love me, too”! So, seeing Him there, where do you stand? God is asking where you/we are. He actually does know; so what He is REALLY asking is if you/we know!

In this regard, imagine a very young child sitting on a couch beside “Mama” while watching intently as a manly figure enters the room. A big smile appears and its little heart “jumps” with sheer joy; for this man is known as “Daddy”! Sitting down across from the couch, Daddy lovingly and adoringly observes his wife and child. And then it happens; His eyes meet with those of his “little one” and instantly, the child turns over on its stomach and slides down off the couch! He then begins to quickly crawl towards Daddy. The father, while watching his little darling, is wondering what the child is up to. Upon reaching Daddy, a hand grabs his pants leg and pulls to stand up. Daddy’s heart is then “captured” as he sees his child struggling mightily with both hands and feet to climb his leg! Still wondering what the child will do, Daddy helps his little darling onto his lap. And so, onto Daddy’s tummy, and the pulling at a shirt pocket to stand up. The child’s intent is now apparent, and there is a “swelling” in Daddy’s heart as two little arms reach around his neck and pulls him close. Tears of love and joy follow, for he hears his “little one’s” small, soft voice; although imperfectly and yet, unmistakably say, “I Love You Daddy!”

Seeing and feeling such a display of love, this father surely would willing LAY DOWN HIS OWN LIFE FOR HIS CHILD!

Folks, the way to get the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love him! He first loved us, and besides commanding us to love Him; He loves to be loved!

Why love Him? There is a song that speaks of broken vows and the saddest words of parting; so nothing will ever be the same except in memory. This is the “picture” of what happened in the Garden of Eden, but because of His great love for us, He could not be satisfied with only memories of what used to be. Therefore, His desire to bring us back home took Him to the cross to die for us!

Can you see, hear, and perhaps feel, the anguish and pain from the cruel whipping and the nails driven into His hands and feet; His body covered by blood; and perhaps groaning as His arms are yanked from their shoulder sockets? His desire and intent is now evident; for we hear Him say; “Father Forgive Them…”!

So have you, will you, go to Him and tell Him that you love Him? And believe and trust Him as your Lord and Saviour? God is indeed asking, “Where are you this Easter season?”

Rev. Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, Virginia

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Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards reflect on Arbor Day

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Dear Editor,

Twenty years ago, on Arbor Day 2001, the Front Royal/Warren County Stewards “adopted” the Happy Creek Arboretum. For 20 years, the Tree Stewards have planted and labeled trees and shrubs, and planted perennials and bulbs to beautify the Arboretum. Throughout these 20 years we pruned, mulched, watered, sprayed, and fertilized these plants, thus saving the Town hundreds of dollars in man-hours. We also arranged to have installed dog refuse bag stations, a water fountain, an information Kiosk, and other amenities to make the Arboretum attractive to visitors.

From left to right: 2001’s Public Works Dir. George Shadman; Tree Stewards Secretary Kevin Flickinger, Tree Stewards President Mike Kenyon, Mayor Clay Athey, Town Manager Rick Anzolut, and Planning Director Kim Fogle.

Although the Tree Stewards have worked on many other Town and County projects throughout our 24-year existence, our work at Happy Creek Arboretum is our longest focus on a single project. We invite the public to visit the Arboretum and enjoy this beautiful spot within the Town.

A. Joan Brubaker, Tree Steward
Warren County, Virginia

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