This year, sprinkled into an itinerary packed with events to honor two Confederate generals, Lee-Jackson Day in Lexington included a seemingly odd event: a tour through sites associated with black Confederates.
Each year, flaggers from within and outside of Lexington gather to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, a statewide holiday. On the event’s promotional website, supported by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Stonewall Brigade Camp, the black Confederate site tour is promoted as a chance to “explore the lasting impact that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had on the local African-American community.”
Brandon Dorsey, a communications officer for the Brigade Camp, said the group has been offering the tour for three years. He said he sees no problem with the tour’s existence and added that since most of the stops are in public places, there shouldn’t be any privacy concerns.
“Most of the controversies in Lexington are stirred up by the people at [Washington and Lee University] and the liberal academics, not by the black community itself,” Dorsey said.
The lack of outrage may be due to the fact that the event doesn’t draw in nearly as many participants as the weekend’s main event, a parade through Lexington during which marchers often wear Civil War regalia, complete with unloaded weapons and Confederate flags.
City Council member Marylin Alexander said this was the first year she’d heard about the black Confederate tour.
“When I found out it was at the last minute, like within the last couple of days before they got here,” Alexander said.
Alexander said a couple of people contacted her out of concern over the event. She said she felt better once she realized the event was not going to draw large numbers of people, but it’s something she’s going to continue to keep an eye on.
Dorsey said the black Confederate tour was designed to be self-guided through six selected sites. Group tours are available if there’s enough interest.
This year, three participants went as a group, but they traveled in a car rather than on foot due to rain. Dorsey said interested parties can request a tour at any time of the year, not just on Lee-Jackson Day.
The tour was developed with a focus on Lee and Jackson’s attitudes towards slavery and the black community in Lexington, said Dorsey. There’s a special focus on Jackson because “he was here pre-war and had a very good relationship with the local black community.”
“If you listen to the rhetoric you would think that Lee and Jackson were big proponents of slavery, which is not true,” Dorsey said.
The six sites on the tour are the Jefferson Shields House, the Stonewall Jackson Monument, the Lexington Presbyterian Church, the First Baptist Church, the original AfricanAmerican cemetery and the Evergreen cemetery.
The event’s website published a map of the tour route, including descriptions of each site. Some of the sites are near Diamond Hill, a historic black community in Lexington.
Alexander said that there would be a problem with flaggers going to Diamond Hill because of participants’ issues with black residents in the past.
“We would have people in the big trucks with Confederate flags on the back and riding around through the neighborhood,” Alexander said, “shouting the n word to people that they would see on the sidewalk or walking in front of their house, and that did not go over well at all.”
Ullunda Veal, 19, has lived in Lexington for most of her life and is familiar with events surrounding Lee-Jackson Day. As a black resident, she said the tour of black Confederate sites feels like “a slap in the face.”
“They’re just waving the flag of like, this is what we have, it’s our heritage, and I mean, it’s just offensive,” said Veal, who attends the University of Lynchburg.
She said that the tour being near Diamond Hill makes her feel like participants are just trying to get a rise out of residents there, who they can blame if there’s an issue because flaggers can say they’re “just trying to have a peaceful protest.”
“[The Confederate flag] just makes me feel like my problems don’t matter, like my voice isn’t important,” Veal said.
Joëlle Simeu, ’20, is also familiar with Confederate ideology. When she attended high school in Quakertown, Penn., one of her classmates had a tattoo of the Confederate flag. She said that the black Confederate sites tour feels “backwards.”
“It’s really hard for me to see it as anything but some type of twisted intimidation tactic,” Simeu said.
But if black residents protest the tour in the future, Dorsey said he isn’t sure why he should care.
“I suppose I could [also] express discomfort. I don’t like liberal professors, so, I don’t think I’m going to get all of them to leave Lexington just because I’m a native to the area and they moved in,” Dorsey, who’s been working with the Sons of Confederate Veterans for 21 years, said. “In this country, we have the freedom to go wherever we wish.”