Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Racism in Virginia

George Allen seems woefully unconcerned with his state's less-than-stellar history on race issues. Brenden Miniter writes at OpinionJournal:

...his political record also contains less flattering details. As a state legislator in the 1980s, Mr. Allen opposed making Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday. While running for governor in 1993 he admitted that he had displayed a Confederate flag in his living room as part of a "flag collection." Mr. Allen was also found to have a noose hanging from a ficus tree in his personal law office, something he called part of a "Western motif." And while serving as governor Mr. Allen proclaimed April as Confederate Heritage Month. These are not the actions of a politician who understands legitimate sensitivities over his state's racial history--a history that includes slavery, Jim Crow and, more recently, resisting integration of its public schools in the late 1950s. Nor are they the actions of a politician who is working fastidiously to overcome this history.

Indeed, as governor, when leadership on race issues required political courage, Mr. Allen was noticeably absent from the fight. One battle stands out. In 1996, the city of Richmond erected a statue in honor of the late Arthur Ashe Jr., a native of the city and tennis star who was black. The statue drew opposition because it was placed on Monument Avenue, a place long reserved for statues honoring Confederate war heroes. The placement of the statue had become a flashpoint in state politics; its dedication drew protesters waving Confederate flags. Gov. Allen elected not to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who had fought to erect the Ashe statue. He did later laud Ashe as one of Virginia's heroes, along with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But on that day the governor was not in attendance and instead sent along a simple note of congratulations.
I'm sympathetic to Miniter's point, because having lived in northern Virginia and worked in Washington D.C. for a brief time, I can say that the area by far had the worst racial relations of any place I have ever lived. That's saying something, because Cleveland is no picnic. Allen should know better; he should be trying to be an active part of the solution.

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