St. Paul’s Church in Richmond is just a block away from the Virginia State Capitol. It is but a short distance from where Robert E. Lee returned to Richmond after Appomattox and from the Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived.
Students of the Civil War and Reconstruction will recall that the church was the site of two events in 1865 that have made it into the history books. It was while attending St. Paul’s that Davis received word from Lee of the need to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg. Later that year Lee attended services. So did an African American, and someone who claimed to be there reported what happened next:
In years to come this story would undergo a transformation, to the point that Lee was presented as a tolerant fellow who set an example for welcoming a new worshipper. As Andy Hall has reminded us, the original story was far different.
Now St. Paul’s is in the crosshairs of a new controversy about Confederate heritage. As Kevin Levin has reported (here and here and here … with useful links to other discussions), the church’s vestry, after much discussion over several months, has decided to remove some of the Confederate iconography present in the church. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which reported on these deliberations, has also endorsed the church’s decision.
Needless to say, this decision was greeted with controversy. Among those who protested were some familiar names.
In August, one notes among the commenters the following observation:
Now, in November, guess who appears again?
As Kevin notes, it remains to be seen whether the Virginia Flaggers will take their objections to the streets … and whether the always outspoken Susan Hathaway will be among them. There’s no evidence that the reasons that deter her from showing up once more at her old stomping groups by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are in play at St. Paul’s. And, as Kevin suggests, this is a heaven-sent opportunity to give the cause of Confederate heritage some much needed publicity.
But the recent track record of the Virginia Flaggers suggests that they are not so committed to their cause as they might once have been. The effort to protest the InLight display at the VMFA fell far short of previous efforts to draw attention to Confederate heritage, and of course Hathaway did not act on her own call to action. This time Hathaway has no excuses not to heed her own advice.
Or perhaps they’ll just put up another flag at Danville and declare victory. After all, Jefferson Davis abandoned Richmond for Danville as well.