The Week in Confederate Heritage

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Jun 11, 2020
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This photo, taken by Matthew Brady between 1860 and 1865, depicts the “White House of the Confederacy” in Richmond, Va., which served as Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ home during the Civil War. A National Historic Landmark, the visitors may now visit the building that became a museum in 1896. (Matthew Brady/National Archives)

We begin this week with this Op-Ed from Virginia. “In a move prompted by a persistent Virginia Beach teenager, the Virginia Senate this week advanced a bill to remove the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) from the list of nonprofit and charitable organizations exempt from real estate, deed recordation and personal property taxes in Virginia state code. Fantastic. As Lost Cause devotees and American traitor venerators, the UDC should never have been on that list to begin with. The Washington Post’s Greg Schneider reported that Virginia Beach high schooler Simone Nied, 17, started advocating for the UDC’s tax exemptions to be stripped two years ago. Her requests culminated in House of Delegates and Senate bills to do just that. The loss of the tax exemptions, as Schneider noted, could mean a yearly tax payment to the state of at least $50,000, if the measures are approved by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. In the 1890s when the UDC was founded, America was in the final throes of Reconstruction, the process of putting our fractured nation back together again after the Civil War. For a short time, it seemed the country would make good on its promises of life and liberty to millions of Black Americans who had been freed from slavery and were eager to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. They bought land and started farms, educated themselves and even pursued political power. Then Jim Crow came, which rolled back most of that progress and all but stamped out the fledgling embers of advancement Black people had strived so hard to achieve. As Black Virginians entered the nadir of 20th century racial terror and socioeconomic disenfranchisement, the UDC was founded under the banner of honoring the Confederate soldiers who had fought for the right to continue enslaving those same Black Virginians’ parents, grandparents and ancestors. The daughters and descendents of Confederates in Virginia and elsewhere in the South were determined to restore the social dichotomies and disparities of the ‘good old days,’ when African Americans had no civil or human rights and when white people wielded power in all aspects of society. It is no coincidence that most of Virginia’s Confederate monuments and memorial societies were created as the nation reenacted a legal system of segregation and discrimination designed to put Black folks back in their place and keep white folks on top.”

The article continues, “The UDC has continued to cling to this mission, often disguised with flowery phrases about honoring Southern sacrifice and bravery while never acknowledging the white supremacist ideals that intertwine that mindset. The hate such a stance represents cannot be separated from its heritage — I don’t care how many tepid anti-racism statements UDC adds to their largely-inaccessible-to-the-public website, or how much bunk they get unnamed advocates to spew in newspapers alleging their group ‘only does good in its community.’ It’s with all of this in mind that I commend Ms. Nied and Virginia’s senators and delegates for trying to stop public dollars from subsidizing an organization inextricably rooted on the wrong side of history. It’s a nice companion to other bills and resolutions focused on righting wrongs, improving lives and acknowledging — if not repairing — harms endured by Virginians of color for centuries. The Senate and House legislation on ending UDC’s tax breaks needs to be reconciled, and then the ball will be in Gov. Youngkin’s court. An aside: I don’t know if our governor will accept the Assembly’s proposal, but it would be hard to imagine any modern-day presidential hopeful successfully ascending to the White House trailing the scent of moldy Confederate memorials. If the top job of leading an increasingly multicultural 21st century America is his ambition, he’d do well to sop up his disappointment with the removal of mementos commemorating the most divisive period of the nation’s history from public spaces, and he probably shouldn’t buck the proposed end of the UDC’s tax-free days either.”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters on Arthur Ashe Boulevard in Richmond, seen on Tuesday. (Gregory S. Schneider/The Washington Post)

This article is the news story on the same topic. “The Virginia Senate voted Tuesday to tear down another Confederate memorial — but instead of a bronze figure on a pedestal, this one consists of words tucked into state law. With two Republicans joining all 21 Democrats, senators agreed to dismantle a pair of obscure tax breaks for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization that sponsored most of the Confederate statues that dotted Virginia’s landscape until localities began removing them over the past several years. Few in Richmond knew about the special dispensation for the Confederate heritage group until it was highlighted by a Virginia Beach high school student who called lawmakers and pushed them to act. ‘I understood who the United Daughters of the Confederacy were and what they did and how they spread the myth of the Lost Cause, and I thought that we should get rid of [the tax break],’ Simone Nied, 17, a junior at Kempsville High School, said in an interview. She took up the issue two years ago after her father, a lawyer, mentioned it in passing during a family dinner. A measure to end the UDC’s exemptions passed the House of Delegates last week, but the Senate version was broadened to strike two other Confederate-related organizations from the list of Virginia groups exempted from real estate and property taxes. The two bills will have to be reconciled — and then go to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), where they face uncertain prospects of being signed into law. ‘The Governor will review any legislation that comes to his desk,’ spokesman Christian Martinez said via text message when asked whether Youngkin supports the bills.”

The article continues, “Youngkin has said before that he favors preserving Confederate statues in museums instead of removing them entirely. His office said he opposed the removal of the Confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, and he directed that the Virginia Military Institute place it at a battlefield owned by the school. Youngkin also appointed a Confederate monument defender to the state Board of Historic Resources, though she later resigned. The UDC tax measures picked up some Republican support in the legislature — three GOP lawmakers joined all 51 Democrats in voting for the House version, along with the two Republicans who joined Democrats in the Senate. But that’s not enough to provide the two-thirds majority required to overcome a veto. The bills involve sections of state code that deal with taxes related to real estate. In the law, the UDC is the only specific special-interest group exempted from deed recordation taxes, along with the broader categories of churches; federal, state and local governments; nonprofit hospitals; and corporations making internal property transfers. The UDC also is exempted from real estate and property taxes, part of a long list of carve-outs that also includes local historic preservation groups, the Future Farmers of America, the American Legion, several local fine arts groups and more. Both House and Senate bills would strip the UDC from those lists. The Senate bill also would remove the property tax exemption for the Stonewall Jackson Memorial and the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, which owned Richmond’s White House of the Confederacy before it merged with the American Civil War Museum.”

A Virginia Senate bill would remove a property tax exemption for the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, which owned the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, seen here in 2017, before it merged with the American Civil War Museum. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

According to the article, “The loss of a real estate tax exemption could expose the UDC to a hefty local tax bill in Richmond, where its marble-clad national headquarters on Arthur Ashe Boulevard has an assessed value of more than $4.4 million. With the local tax rate of $1.20 per $100 of assessed value, that could result in an annual tax bill of more than $53,000. The UDC is a nonprofit that in 2022 reported revenue of $1.41 million and expenses of $1.26 million, according to a database maintained by ProPublica. After a reporter called the UDC seeking comment, a veteran Virginia political consultant returned the call and said the group had asked him to respond on the condition of anonymity, because the organization has a policy against commenting in the media. The measure is ‘a punitive bill aimed at organizations that the party in power deems offensive,’ the consultant said. ‘We should not be using the tax code to target groups we disagree with.’ The consultant added that the bill ‘is particularly offensive because it comes from the same General Assembly that asked their ancestors to go to war.’ These days, he said, the UDC spends most of its time doing charitable work, such as awarding scholarships and contributing to groups that support wounded veterans and the families of first responders. ‘This is an organization that only does good in its community,’ the consultant said. ‘It only gives, it does not take, and this bill is unfortunately a vulgar, unfair tax bill that discriminates against one group.’ But Nied, who interned for then-Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and hopes to major in political science after high school, said she felt it was unfair to have singled out the UDC for a tax break. After seeing a documentary about the group and reading the book ‘Robert E. Lee and Me’ by Ty Seidule, Nied said she came to see the UDC as a group whose mission was to spread a sanitized version of the South and slavery. ‘It shouldn’t get a public subsidy,’ she said.”

We read, “Nied began calling lawmakers the summer after ninth grade, finally connecting with Del. Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth). He sponsored a bill last year that never made it out of a Republican-controlled committee. This year, Democrats have majorities in the General Assembly, and Scott is the first Black speaker of the Virginia House. It’s rare for a speaker to carry legislation, so Nied got Del. Alex Q. Askew (D-Virginia Beach) to carry the House version, and state Sen. Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) carried it in the Senate. The measure passed the Senate without debate. In an interview, Williams Graves said she was eager to sponsor the bill for two reasons: ‘With all the hoopla that we have had over Confederate statues, it just did not seem right to me that we would give folks an ongoing tax exemption for that,’ she said, adding that she was also moved by Nied’s interest. ‘Any time you get young people involved in the legislative process, you want to encourage that.’ On Tuesday, Nied was in study hall at school when she got an email from Williams Graves informing her of the vote. ‘I was really excited,’ Nied said. ‘I told all my friends around me.'”

The bronze statue of a woman reading to two children is slid off it’s base as it is removed from the “Women of the Southland” monument in Jacksonville, Fla.’s Springfield Park on Wednesday morning, Dec. 27, 2023. Serious discussion of the monument’s fate began in 2020 after the former mayor ordered the removal of another monument, a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier that had been in a downtown park for more than 100 years. The move came weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and on the heels of marches and other calls for social justice. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

We end with this Op-Ed from Florida. “The senators were all about preserving history. Not all history, mind you. Not the history of Florida’s Black and brown minorities, whose abuse, exploitation and occasional lynchings have been excised from public school textbooks. Rather, Republican state Sen. Jonathan Martin’s proposed legislation would protect stone and bronze icons of a mythologized history. MAGA Republicans have been incensed by Florida cities and counties that moved Jim Crow-era confederate statuary from parks, streets and town squares to more obscure settings. Senate Bill 1122 would prohibit such insults to the lost cause. Martin’s legislation ‘preempts local government actions that may relocate, remove, damage or destroy a monument or memorial.’ (‘Preemption’ has become a favorite word of Republican lawmakers, because when it comes to local governance, Tallahassee knows best.) Local government upstarts who flout the monuments law would be slapped with civil damages. The governor would be empowered to remove transgressors from office. (One of his favorite pastimes.) At a contentious meeting of the Florida Senate’s Committee on Community Affairs Tuesday, Martin lamented that Florida cities have removed memorials that ‘have stood for hundreds of years.’ He argued, ‘I should be able to see that and not have some city council [that] happens to represent 2,000 people [living near] that memorial or monument infringe on my right [to enjoy] Florida history.’”

The article tells us, “Martin insisted that his measure protects generic memorials, not just the confederate kind. But everyone in the hearing room knew that the bill was a reaction to Florida’s ongoing confederate monuments controversy. Conservative Republicans were particularly outraged after Jacksonville evicted statues of a rebel soldier and ‘Women of the Southern Confederacy‘ from city parks in 2020 and 2023. ‘This is cancel culture,’ complained Republican state Rep. Dean Black, who is sponsoring a companion monuments bill in the House of Representatives. ‘What we are trying to do is right the wrongs of cancel culture.’ History will note it was actually generals Grant and Sherman who canceled the confederates. The hearing was just another skirmish in the culture wars, with MAGA World’s disquieting regard for the Old Confederacy bubbling just beneath the surface. When it came time for public comment, most of the speakers opposed SB 1122. Didn’t matter. Republicans dominate the committee. But then a couple of aging, angry neo-confederates took the fun out of winning. They blurted such intemperate remarks, they sabotaged their own cause. One of them declared the removal of confederate memorials was ‘part of the cultural war being waged against white society.’ The other invoked ‘white nationalism’ and called opponents of Martin’s bill ‘Black Lives Matter communists.’”

We read, “Republican committee members were chagrined to hear the subtext of SB 1122 uttered aloud. ‘You are the reason I’m vacillating on whether or not to even vote yes, because it would look like I endorse your hatred,’ Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island told the grumpy old men. ‘And I do not.’ Of course, neither Bradley nor the other committee Republicans were chagrined enough to vote against the bill. All voted for it, and the living descendants of slaves discovered that they were less important to the Republican majority than long-dead defenders of slavery. The three Democratic committee members walked out before the vote, leaving Republicans with a five-to-zip majority and more irony than a preachers’ convention in Vegas. They voted to ‘preserve history.’ The week before, this same Republican majority murdered historic preservation. They approved a shocking bill that would allow the demolition of hundreds of historically significant buildings along the coast. If the structures fail to meet modern construction standards — a sure bet — developers could defile Florida historic districts with shiny new condominiums. Local governments would have no say in the matter. The same bunch who voted to save historic monuments honoring confederate traitors didn’t give a damn about saving historic structures in Key West, St. Augustine and Miami Beach.”

It then goes on to say, “Speaking of history, the Republican legislative supermajority mandated a rewrite of history textbooks to include the supposed benefits of slavery. Seems like history might not be their best subject. Perversely, SB 1122’s chances for passage were damaged by the bill’s most fervent supporters. The ugly white supremacist language coming from the two aging neo-confederates appalled Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. She called their performance, ‘abhorrent behavior.’ Though the monuments bill has been approved by two senate committees, the disgusted Passidomo suggested that she might keep the bill from getting a floor vote. The racist rants of the old reprobates might save Florida from another idiot skirmish in the war on woke. The hearing on SB 1122 made it clear that Florida needs more than 160 years to vanquish its confederate legacy.”

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