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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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Community

Bike the Holiday Lights

BASKET & BIKE and RVA on Wheels want to share the joy of bike riding in the city during this festive time of year.

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From now until January 8th there is a unique way to check out the holiday lights in Richmond. BASKET & BIKE and RVA on Wheels have teamed up to provide Richmond with a variety of tour experiences and rentals on wheels, and they will serve as your go-to place to test and purchase your new classic or electric bike, along with all the gear to outfit your bike style.

We’ll bike Downtown Richmond while the sun’s still out to stay warm! Chase the sunset with us on the avenues and bike lanes for a seasonal ride on classic or electric wheels. As dusk approaches, pass through holiday lights downtown where your tour ends with a voucher for a beverage (wine, beer, tea, coffee) at neighbors, Urban Farmhouse.

BASKET & BIKE Classic Bike $95
RVA on Wheels Electric Bike $125
Starts and Ends at 1301 E. Cary St.
Website and more Info

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Community

Street Closures for RVA Illuminates

Street closures on East Canal Street, South 7th Street and South 8th Street are already in place.

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Downtown

Missing context, political bias: Some of critics’ objections to Virginia’s new history standards

A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

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A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

Critics from diverse communities and lawmakers, most recently in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor and school officials, argue the new standards are missing influential figures and events and voice concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who authored the changes.

The standards will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which are assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow requested additional time to correct errors, reorder guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the draft.

“Continued review and edits to the standards over the past several months have strengthened the content at each grade level,” wrote Balow in a Nov. 10 letter to the Board of Education. “The edits honor the work done previously by Virginians, and national and state experts.”

Balow also said in her letter that draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be published later.

However, critics in the Nov. 15 letter said the curriculum frameworks missing from the standards make it “impossible for anybody to effectively evaluate the draft as a whole.”

Among the letter’s signatories are 10 Democratic lawmakers and groups including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred inquiries to the Hamkae Center.

They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that fail to reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as the Michigan based-Hillsdale College in the review of the standards.

Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.

Here are a few objections to the proposed new standards that educational and other groups have raised.

Missing context

Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.

For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Indigenous people” and require students to study aspects of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous People’s Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because Indigenous people view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.

Additionally, the standards recognize the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but lack an emphasis on the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.

“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary to understand the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.

“Content is crucial for understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history.”

Narrative

With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history the administration is conveying to students.

Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflect “pretty explicit political bias.” She said the standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and disregards the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.

For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from the elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in the sixth grade standards.

Aquino said there’s no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which have been part of the standards for world culture studies, have also been removed from third grade standards.

The standards also do not include any mention of tribal sovereignty.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft deletes “major components of our history and deliberately omits the diverse perspectives that shape our commonwealth and our nation.”

For example, she wrote that the draft omits any discussion of the history or modern-day culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And, all Virginia students would lack a fuller understanding of our country’s history.”

Rejected recommendations

The inclusion of King, the national holiday for the civil rights leader and Juneteenth marking the day when all enslaved Africans became free were several edits recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the redraft.

The list of edits excluded include the mention of John Mercer Langston, the first African American congressman from Virginia. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded.

Mention of Indigenous people and their culture being affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the Virginia Colony’s economy was greatly dependent upon temporary and permanent servitude.”

Historical errors and inaccuracies

Critics also say the proposed standards have historical errors and inaccuracies.

Specifically, students starting in the fourth grade are required to explain the reasons for the relocation of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium Monday said “this makes absolutely no sense” given Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attack.

Additionally, the group says the standards erroneously convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was the most recent president from Virginia instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.

The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students starting in the fourth grade will be required to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians by explaining Virginia’s prominence in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.

“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors such as this because they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.

Age appropriateness

Aquino also questioned whether the revisions are age appropriate.

For example, first and third graders must learn about the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient law text, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, under the proposed history standards. She said the history is “pretty dense and intense” and includes details about capital punishment.

However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education, said under the standards, first graders will learn where the first civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is part of a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures students could encounter as they “hear, read, and retell stories.”

Open access

With the focus on the amount of work demanded of teachers due to the workforce shortage, critics question a sentence in the preface of the history standards that states teachers should provide all of their instructional materials to parents.

Under the Board of Education’s current regulations, parents have the right to inspect instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for students.

Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout with increased work demands and argued another mandate does not help support students.

“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve instruction,” Aquino said.

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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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