Saturday, July 8, 2000

Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

The governor has opened his door to listen to the concerns of blacks, but the NAACP hasn't closed the door on its threat of a tourism boycott in Virginia.

"It's still on the table . . . it's not dead, it's alive and well," King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said of a possible boycott.

But Gov. Jim Gilmore, who in May averted immediate punitive actions against Virginia's tourism attractions, dismissed the threat yesterday as an exaggeration and indicated he may not change his Confederate History Month proclamation next year.

"It's not at this point certain a change is called for," Gilmore said of the proclamation he issued the last two Aprils in which he memorialized the sufferings and courage of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War while condemning the institution of slavery.

The governor said he will keep an open mind and consult with groups on both sides of the controversy before he makes a decision on the wording or discontinuation of the proclamation during his final year in office.

"I will not take sides and exclude people," Gilmore promised. "That's the fastest recipe for division and exclusion."

The governor will meet with the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Aug. 25 and, he said, will consult with a diverse group of Virginians before he makes up his mind, perhaps later this year.

"It's not easily resolved," said Gilmore, who has been buying time with black organizations, who generally view any commemoration of the Southern side in the Civil War as insulting and a virtual imprimatur of racism.

Gilmore and Khalfani made their remarks after the governor met for almost 90 minutes with a handful of leaders of black organizations behind closed doors at the state Capitol.

The governor had promised to hold such regular talks to discuss major concerns of blacks after he met with NAACP representatives in May and managed to halt a possible boycott or other statewide actions to protest his proclamation.

Yesterday, participants in the meeting generally seemed pleased with Gilmore's commitment and ideas to step up recruitment and advancement of blacks in both the Virginia State Police and National Guard.

There are relatively few blacks in both organizations, and the disparity between whites and minorities is particularly glaring in the higher ranks. Although committed to hiring and promoting blacks, state police officials said it is difficult to retain qualified minority members because many leave for other, better-paying jobs.

"It was an action meeting, not tea and crumpets," Khalfani emphasized.

Del. Jerrauld C. Jones, D-Norfolk, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, described himself as "very pleased" with the talks. He said that much of the meeting was spent discussing the recruitment of minorities.

"The critical issue is the National Guard," said Jones, referring to the "documented racism and discrimination" plaguing it.

Gilmore, too, focused on recruitment and promotion promises. He told reporters there was "not one word" voiced about a tourism boycott during the meeting.

But all was not sweetness and light.

Gilmore again emphasized there was no need for a moratorium on the death penalty in Virginia, even though some people have pointed to, among other things, racial disparities in the imposition of capital punishment here.

He rejected a call by Jones and the Black Caucus last week to have the governor appoint a bipartisan commission, including champions and foes of capital punishment, to study the circumstances of the death penalty in Virginia.

"There will be no commission to look at this issue; it's not warranted," said Gilmore, a former chief prosecutor in Henrico County and state attorney general.

Jones said that for all the talk that Virginia's system is foolproof, "it's ludicrous to believe" that someone has not been wrongly convicted and executed in the state.

"Virginia is not exempt from that situation," Jones said.

The national NAACP convention this weekend in Baltimore will consider a resolution that would empower the organization's Virginia leaders to call a boycott or make other protests unless Gilmore halts the annual Confederacy commemorations, Khalfani said.

Once again, the NAACP has set its sites on all things Confederate, only this time their target is Governor James Gilmore and the Old Dominion. King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state's premier civil rights organization, continues to threaten Gilmore with economic sanctions unless the governor agrees not to issue a Confederate History Month proclamation next year.

Recent talks between Khalfani and Governor Gilmore indicate that the Governor is holding the line and refusing to be intimidated.

In a letter sent to Governor Gilmore the week of May 8, Virginia Division President Mrs. David S. Whitacre expressed Virginia Division's support for Gilmore's willingness to recognize the existence of the Confederacy and to honor the memory of the soldiers who fell in defense of their homes and families:

The Honorable James S. Gilmore, III
Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Governor
State Capitol Building
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Re: Designation of Confederate History Month

Dear Governor Gilmore:

On behalf of the 2500 members of the Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, I thank you for declaring the month of April Confederate History Month. We appreciate your willingness to endure the controversy that now surrounds this time in our history.

Our members have remembered this historic era in many ways. They include grave marker placement, marker dedications, tours of local sites with ties to the 1861-65 period, luncheons, talks by noted speaker, etc. You displayed courage in recognizing this segment of our Virginia History. When we consider the pain and sacrifice of our ancestors in the cause of States Rights, the heat we now take in our remembrance certainly pales in comparison.

Thank you again for officially recognizing the historical prominence of Virginia in this conflict.

Respectfully yours,
Susan B. Whitacre
Virginia Division President

Unless we want our heritage to fall victim to the same forces that are attempting to rewrite history in South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and other Southern states, we must let Governor Gilmore know that we applaud his efforts to give Virginia's Confederate past the place of honor that it deserves. You are encouraged to write the Governor and express your appreciation for his support and urge that he not abandon his principles in the face of threats from those who seek to disenfranchise us.

Return to Virginia Division Archives