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No more Confederate flags at Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, a longtime shrine of the South and home to thousands of Confederate graves, has quietly banned the flying of Confederate flags.

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Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, a longtime shrine of the South and home to thousands of Confederate graves, has quietly banned the flying of Confederate flags.

Visitors first noticed the absence of the flags in summer 2020, when anti-racism protests rocking Richmond and much of the U.S. often targeted rebel symbols. Two people familiar with the cemetery said then they understood that Hollywood had taken down the flags, widely seen as symbols of racism, temporarily to remove potential vandalism targets.

Two years later, Confederate flags that were once common at the historic private cemetery are still gone.

It turns out the cemetery’s board of directors adopted a formal flag ban in 2020 – with no public announcement.

“Hollywood does not have an established practice of publishing policies and broadly disseminating them when they are adopted by the board,” said Hollywood spokesman Matt Jenkins, a Richmond lawyer and member of the cemetery’s board. “We are not a public body.”

Jenkins provided the Virginia Mercury a copy of the flag policy, dated July 2, 2020.

It says in part that “against the current backdrop of intentional acts of vandalism and destruction of property, Hollywood’s board has removed from public view all flags of the Confederacy in the interest of protecting and preserving the entirety of the cemetery’s grounds.”

Jenkins declined to say if the ban is permanent. “It (the policy) says what it says. I’m not going to use the word ‘temporary’ or ‘permanent.’ “

Confederate statues on and near Richmond’s Monument Avenue began coming down in 2020, some toppled by protestors and others removed by the city.

The 135-acre Hollywood Cemetery, named for its abundant hollies, lies along the James River next to the Oregon Hill community. Founded in 1847, it is owned by the Hollywood Cemetery Co., a nonprofit corporation. Still a functioning cemetery, Hollywood operates much like a park, welcoming visitors who stroll up and down its hills to view solemn and artistic grave markers under gorgeous oaks, tulip poplars and cypresses, some of which predate the Civil War.

Hollywood is the resting place for two U.S. presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler; Confederate President Jefferson Davis; several Virginia governors; and other dignitaries.

Hollywood bills itself as “one of the most historic and beautiful cemeteries in the United States.”

Among Hollywood’s most striking features are its Confederate graves and memorials, which include a 90-foot-tall granite pyramid.

Virginia Commonwealth University historian Ryan K. Smith said Hollywood used to seek an elite, White clientele. The Confederate flag ban, he said, could help Hollywood move past those racist roots and appeal to a more diverse public.

“They have been worried, and I think rightfully so, about vandalism,” Smith said. “I think Hollywood is also trying to position itself for newer audiences going forward than it cultivated in the past.”

Smith’s 2020 book “Death & Rebirth in a Southern City” examined the religious, racial and Confederate history of Richmond’s cemeteries.

“I think (the ban) is a big deal because it shows just how far public perception against the Confederate flag has turned,” Smith said.

There are several flags of the Confederacy, but the most-recognized and most controversial by far is the Confederate battle flag. It features a blue, star-studded, diagonal cross on a field of red. Though some have defended the flag symbolic of southern heritage, it has long been waved by segregationists and White supremacists.

Word of the ban angered Andrew Bennett Morehead of Hanover County, who had put up and maintained Confederate flags at Hollywood in recent years.

“This is absolutely news to me,” said Morehead, the Richmond area brigade commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a heritage group with about 3,500 members in Virginia.

“If Hollywood has an official stance – no Confederate flags of any type will be flown – I haven’t seen it on anything that I’ve gotten,” Morehead added. He said he thought the 2020 ban was temporary.

“Of all places, Hollywood Cemetery, which is a very historic … landmark, much like Monument Avenue was, is succumbing to the woke society,” Morehead said.

Morehead, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, had been putting up at Hollywood several replicas of the Confederacy’s third, and final, national flag. That lesser-known flag is red and white with a square battle-flag image in its upper left corner.

Figuring enough time had passed since the 2020 protests, Morehead in early May put up a large third-national flag on a pole by the grave of Davis, the Confederate President. A Confederate flag had flown on that pole for years before being taken down amid the protests. Morehead later found that the newly raised flag had been removed. He criticized the cemetery for failing to celebrate  “the folks who are interred there that put them on the map.”

Tamara Jenkins, a spokeswoman for Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, indicated Confederate flags are still allowed in city cemeteries. “There is no rule in place to regulate flags on individual graves,” she said by email.

‘A symbolic cacophony’: As monuments come down, the unraveling of the rebel flag continues

The ‘inner sanctum’

Historian Mary H. Mitchell captured Hollywood’s attraction to aficionados of the Confederacy in her 1985 book, “Hollywood Cemetery: The History of a Southern Shrine.”

“Most of the war’s major battles were fought on Virginia soil, and (Richmond) assumed responsibility for an enormous number of the dead and wounded,” Mitchell wrote.

“Richmond became a symbol of what these men had fought for — a shrine to the Old South and the Lost Cause…If Richmond was the temple of the Lost Cause, Hollywood was its inner sanctum.”

The Lost Cause was a distorted version of history, pushed by the Civil War’s losers, that falsely insisted the war wasn’t about slavery, that enslaved people had been happy and that Confederates were saintly, among other claims.

Hollywood claims to be the home of 18,000 Confederate graves, but modern researchers say the number is probably several thousand smaller. Still, Hollywood and the city’s Oakwood Cemetery in the East End appear to be the top two cemeteries in the U.S. in their numbers of Confederate dead.

It seems clear that Hollywood, like Richmond and much of the South, is struggling to reconcile its past and present. Hollywood’s struggle was evident as far back as 1999, when the foreword to a new edition of Mitchell’s book was written by the late Hunter Holmes McGuire Jr., the great grandson of a prominent Confederate surgeon and a surgeon in his own right.

Hollywood, McGuire wrote, has a “unique drawing power for the growing number of people fascinated by the American Civil War. Some unreconstructed rebels come to mourn a ‘lost cause,’ but more and more people realize that what both sides gained in their crucible of sacrifice was a new and better nation.”

Similarly, Hollywood says on its website today that Confederates “went into battle for what seemed then a noble cause of protecting their homes from northern aggression… Now we know that the cause was not a lost one. These men’s lives, along with those of their northern counterparts, were given to forge a single and better nation.”

The cemetery’s flag policy doesn’t mention perceptions of the flag, but Hollywood’s Jenkins acknowledged the flags are offensive to many people. “Don’t infer from the policy statement that we are insensitive to many people’s feelings about the flag.”

Hollywood’s statement says, “Whether and when it may be appropriate for these flags to be flown again in commemoration of the dead will be determined at a later date.” Asked if Hollywood had set a date to revisit the policy, Jenkins said, “No comment.”

Vandalism

The flags’ potential to draw vandals is a major concern at Hollywood.

In summer 2020, vandals cut a rope and stole a large replica of the third national flag of the Confederacy. Last year vandals caused $50,000 to $100,000 in damage when they knocked over several headstones and spray painted one, though that wasn’t in the Confederate part of the cemetery.

Jenkins said he knew of no arrests in the cases.

A recent visit to Hollywood found visitors with mixed feelings about the flag ban.

“Don’t destroy one man’s heritage for another’s,” said a Civil War buff who declined to give his name.

The man later walked to his vehicle, pulled out a miniature version of the rebels’ third national flag and placed it beside a small Confederate battle flag next to the pyramid.

Nelson Bryant, a Maine native living in Henrico County, said he had no problem with the Confederate flags being removed. Of course, Bryant said with a smile, “Down here I’m a damn Yankee.”

Bryant’s wife Anna, raised in Henrico, said, “I’d like to see it come back, the battle flag, but not necessarily at this time.” Perhaps another generation could better deal with it, she said.

“There’s an awful lot tied to the flag,” she said. “But time heals that.”

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Crime

Editorial: Dogwood Dell: a massacre foiled or a tale too good to be true?

“The story seemed almost too good to be true. Now, a month later, a city prosecutor has given us reason to believe it’s not true.”

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By Bob Lewis

If you don’t live near Richmond and get your news from its regional media market, the last time you probably heard of a place called Dogwood Dell was a little over a month ago when Virginia’s capital city made national news for boldly claiming to have foiled a mass shooting.

The claim by Richmond’s police chief and mayor came on the heels of atrocities in Uvalde and Buffalo. Just two days earlier, a rooftop gunman indiscriminately mowed down spectators lining a Fourth of July parade route on the streets of Highland Park, Illinois.

As Chief Gerald Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney explained to a phalanx of television cameras on July 6, a tip from a “hero citizen” allowed police to apprehend two Guatemalan men illegally in the United States and foil their plot to take high-powered firearms to Dogwood Dell, a bandshell and amphitheater in a city park, and unleash hell on hundreds attending an evening Independence Day concert and fireworks display.

The story made network evening newscasts, an upbeat counterpoint to the fresh horror from suburban Chicago. Smith did cable news interviews with outlets like CNN, spreading the word. The publicity was a perfect balm for a police department whose community relations had been strained mightily by its heavy-handed response in the summer of 2020 to demonstrations along Richmond’s Monument Avenue triggered by the broad-daylight police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Stoney was forced to fire the police chief at the time, William Smith (no relation to the current chief), after officers in riot gear teargassed, maced, cursed and kicked protesters gathered peacefully at the since-razed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. It took the city two years, prodded by the settlement of a citizens’ lawsuit, to formally apologize for those police actions.

But this summer, in the first week of July, buoyed by national headlines of a police triumph and lives spared, the city seemed to have made notable strides toward restoring faith in its leadership.

The story seemed almost too good to be true. Now, a month later, a city prosecutor has given us reason to believe it’s not true.

Asked directly in open court by Richmond General District Court Judge David Hicks last week if there was any evidence of plans to attack Dogwood Dell on July Fourth, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Clint Seal gave a clear, unequivocal and crushing response: “No.”

But that moment wasn’t the first time cracks in the city’s story had appeared. Troubling questions began surfacing as early as the upbeat July 6 press conference itself.

Why, if there was a known threat of a mass shooting, were the Dogwood Dell festivities allowed to proceed as scheduled, particularly with one of the two suspects not yet in custody?

Why was one of the suspects – at a minimum, a person illegally in the country – granted a low $15,000 bond on the same day Smith and Stoney announced his arrest? Five days later, another judge thought better of it and revoked the man’s bond, meaning both suspects are now being held without bail.

Why, if the alleged plot was so ignominious and worthy of the bold assertions unambiguously trumpeted by the city’s top officials, has neither man been charged in connection with it? Why is it not mentioned, even obliquely, in any of the charges currently pending against them? (Both are being held on federal immigration and firearms charges and facing deportation.)

And why have city government and police officials steadfastly stiff-armed persistent media requests to answer those questions and elaborate on the case?

The response from the police chief and the mayor? Double down on their claim and insist that it’s valid, the prosecutor’s contradictory statement in court under pain of perjury notwithstanding.

The basis for the chief’s belief that the two men planned specifically to shoot up Dogwood Dell? Essentially, his gut. And probability.

It came “from the experience and knowledge that your police department has and dealing with situations every day; of studying what happens in mass shootings, mass casualty incidents,” Smith said after the court proceeding in an on-camera interview with WTVR-TV in Richmond. “It comes from just your police department knowing what it’s doing.”

“It’s Richmond. Fourth of July celebration. It’s at the Dogwood Dell,” he said.

There’s no paucity of Independence Day observations in Richmond, a city with its own significant contributions to the nation’s struggle for independence. Arguably better known than Dogwood Dell is the annual fireworks display after the final out of the Richmond Flying Squirrels game at The Diamond, a minor league ballpark at the opposite terminus of Arthur Ashe Boulevard from Dogwood Dell. The city’s suburbs have their own numerous public celebrations and pyrotechnics extravaganzas.

As it turns out, we’ve been shown no more evidence for a plot targeting Dogwood Dell than we have for any other potential venue, though we’ve been implored to believe the claim absent any publicly shared substantiation beyond a conversation overheard by an earnest citizen tipster.

None of this is to suggest that these suspects don’t need to be sent away. They do.

Rolman Alberto Balcarcel had been deported twice from the United States and had returned a third time when he was arrested last month. His housemate, Julio Alvarado-Dubon, is charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a person illegally in the country. He had purchased two assault-style rifles, a handgun and multiple high-capacity ammunition magazines at a yard sale near Fredericksburg.

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin last week asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take over prosecution of the men because they are “two illegal aliens with guns so we wanted them prosecuted at the highest level possible.” There was no reference to a mass shooting.

Did Balcarcel and Alvarado-Dubon plan to carry out a bloody assault on U.S. soil – perhaps Richmond soil? I don’t know. Clearly, they had an arsenal capable of it. The chief and the mayor say that was their intent, but nobody in authority has yet put one word of it in writing, made such a claim in a legal proceeding, or shared a shred of corroboration beyond because we say so!

We should not lose sight of the fact that law enforcement performed a great service by taking these two into custody based solely on the armaments seized and the wanton immigration violations alleged in court documents. They deserve our thanks.

The problems come not from the work officers did but from city leadership building so fantastical a narrative and announcing it so broadly yet sharing no proof to support it.

The press may not be the juggernaut it once was, but there are still a lot of journalists out there who are really good at skeptically listening to a claim, methodically vetting and finding holes in it, and asking those responsible to explain the discrepancies. When those officials can’t – or won’t – the whole thing unravels pretty fast, particularly after scenes like the one in Judge Hicks’s courtroom.

What, for a few weeks, seemed like a much-needed PR breakthrough for city leadership in general and the police in particular has instead put both on the defensive again as Smith’s and Stoney’s sensational account falters on the verge of collapse.

Chief Smith, Mayor Stoney – if you’ve got the goods that you say you do tying these two guys to a mass murder plot at Dogwood Dell (or any place else), it’s time to stop stonewalling legitimate inquiries and back your claim with some verifiable proof.

At stake is the public trust and confidence necessary to govern.

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Community

PHOTOS: Richmond International Dragon Boat Festival on the James

This morning Dragon Boat Races took place on a 500m course with events for Mixed, Women’s, and Open teams. Local crews battled it out for the coveted Community Championship trophy. 

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The Richmond International Dragon Boat Festival featured teams from all over the eastern seaboard and local businesses. Races take place on a 500m course with events for Mixed, Women’s, and Open teams. Local crews battle it out for the coveted Community Championship trophy.













































Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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Business

Majority of employers experiencing negative impact due to inflation, according To latest Virginia CEO survey

CEOs expect sales and employment to increase some, but capital spending to remain flat over the next six months.

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Eighty-four percent of CEOs are experiencing a negative impact on their business due to inflation. In addition to the current impact of inflation, 55% expect inflation to continue to rise above current levels over the next six months. That’s the latest from the quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey conducted by the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs.

“The survey results suggest that CEOs have felt a considerable negative impact from inflationary pressures and, as a result, are less optimistic overall about the next six months,” said Rich Boulger, associate dean at the Robins School, who administers the survey and collects the responses.

“It is no surprise that inflation is hurting small businesses,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of VACEOs. “The entrepreneurs I work with continue to adapt to challenging conditions, but I have seen their optimism dim in recent months.”

Fifty-nine percent of CEOs expect sales to increase, with 28% expecting at least a 10% increase, while 52% expect employment to increase over the next six months.

The survey found expectations over the next six months for sales and employment were both positive, although expectations were down compared with the end of Q1 2022.

More than half (59%) of CEOs indicated that they expect sales to increase over the next six months.

  • 6% expected sales to be “significantly higher.”
  • 53% expected sales to be “higher.”
  • 13% expected sales to be “lower.”
  • 28% indicated they expected no change.

Thirty-one percent of CEOs expect capital spending to increase over the next six months (similar to last quarter), while 25% expect capital spending to decrease. More than 43% expect capital spending to remain flat.

Fifty-two percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months. Additionally, 38% expect employment to remain flat while only 11% expect employment to fall.

Taken as a whole, the results pertaining to sales, capital spending, and employment are less positive than in the first quarter of 2022 with the overall Economic Outlook Index decreasing (81.3 versus 98.1) relative to the results from the end of Q1 2022.

Additionally, CEOs were again asked if the war in Ukraine and other world events have resulted in supply chain interruptions, which negatively impacted their business. They reported the following impact on their business:

  • No impact: 33%
  • A minor negative impact: 43%
  • A significant negative impact: 24%

For additional information about the CEO Economic Outlook Survey and a specific breakdown of the data, click here.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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