And so we come at long last to the moment you have all been waiting for …
… the envelope, please …
… and the winner is …
Number One: The Lee Chapel controversy at Washington and Lee University
In the spring of 2014 a group of law students attending Washington and Lee University formed an organization styled “The Committee” and presented the university’s administration with a list of “demands” concerning the institution’s link with slavery and Confederate heritage. Much was made in some quarters of the fact that many (if not all) of the members of “The Committee” were African American (I still do not have a definitive list of this group, and frankly their racial heritage is of no matter to me). Some Confederate heritage groups whined, but to no effect.
On July 8 Washington and Lee’s president, Kenneth Ruscio, offered his response, which included a proposal to remove the replica Confederate flags from the Chapel, where flags had been since 1930 (they were not part of the original design), and to resume displaying an authentic Confederate flag in the museum underneath the chapel by Lee’s office.
Calls for reasonable discussion met with stony silence from Confederate heritage groups, who went into all or nothing mode rather quickly. The League of the South bluntly declared that it sought the “destruction” of those “broad forces” who advocated removing the flags from the chapel. H. K. Edgerton chimed in at no charge. The Virginia Flaggers promised to take up the standard once they ascertained the location of local rest room facilities. They soon found themselves shouldered aside by more impassioned heritage advocates who were not willing to wait until September to act. Then a Flagger rushed to Lexington to be photographed. However, the Flaggers’ call for thousands of protesters to descend upon Lexington was ignored.
Epic fail, Virginia Flaggers.
Most disappointing was how the Sons of Confederate Veterans approached the matter. Following the initial fumbling response of the SCV’s Brandon Dorsey, the new leadership of the SCV elevated Ben Jones to the post of chief of heritage operations in an effort to manage public relations. This, too, proved ineffective. Jones ended up sounding like just another Confederate heritage
apologist advocate, and got little mileage out of his position at the podium, while his weak responses to evidence that white supremacist southern nationalist groups were at a July rally suggested why the Sons of Confederate Veterans is losing credibility as simply a heritage organization.
By the beginning of the school year at Washington and Lee matters had settled down. President Ruscio explained his position. He also controlled the narrative. Supporters of Confederate heritage tried to discount the sentiments of a Lee descendant about the chapel, just as they had earlier ignored Robert E. Lee’s own advice about how to behave.
The Committee faded away. Before long the various protestors did as well. Besides, there were drones to play with.
And so here we are at the end of 2014, and what can we say about the impact of Confederate heritage
apologists advocates on the display of replica Confederate flags at Lee Chapel? Nothing. They’ve had no impact. The Virginia Flaggers, who never mounted a serious presence at Lexington, faded away during the remainder of 2014, promising to return on Lee-Jackson Day in 2015 … and not until then, it seems. Nor has any other group been able to leave their mark on the controversy. Ben Jones and the Sons of Confederate Veterans achieved nothing.
The entire affair made Confederate heritage
apologists advocates look ridiculous and ineffective. It reduced them all to the level of Jerry Dunford. It suggested that the Virginia Flaggers were no longer what they once thought themselves to be (Susan Hathaway never made a powerful impact at Washington and Lee, having embarked on her “I’m just like H. K.!” speaking tours). Nor did the Sons of Confederate Veterans achieve anything.
It was a big defeat, and there are no signs that Confederate heritage will ever be the same.