CARE Rockbridge and Sons of Confederate Veterans plan for January

By Kathryn Young

CARE Rockbridge, an organization founded in the spring of 2016 to speak out against racism, is tentatively scheduled to host a second planning meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16 at Randolph Street United Methodist Church.

The organization is hosting its second annual MLK Community Parade on Monday, Jan. 15 at 10 a.m., two days after the traditional Lee-Jackson Day parade by Confederate heritage supporters.

Sons of Confederate Veterans at the Lee-Jackson Parade
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans prepare to march in the Lee-Jackson Parade on Jan. 14, 2015. The members are standing in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Va. (File photo by Sarah Cumming)

CARE, which stands for the Community Anti-Racism Effort, hosted its first parade in January, bringing in hundreds of people from the Lexington, Rockbridge and Buena Vista area.

For years prior to CARE’s first parade, the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was dominated by a parade hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans celebrating Lee-Jackson Day.

But this past January, the streets were filled with banners, signs, and songs remembering the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of Confederate flags.

What to expect this year

This year, the Sons of Confederate Veterans will host their 19th-annual Lee-Jackson Day parade and procession on Jan. 13, just two days before the CARE parade.

The parade request for the Saturday date was submitted on Oct. 26 of 2016 by Michael Pursley, the Camp Commander of The Stonewall Brigade Camp #1296, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Both Pursley and the J.R. Rankins, the First Lieutenant Commander of the Stonewall Brigade Camp #1296 did not respond to requests for comments.

CARE Rockbridge filed its parade request on Sept. 11 of this year. The parade permit was approved by Lexington City Council on Nov. 2. It held its first planning meeting for the parade on Nov. 8.

The CARE Rockbridge MLK Parade last year was the first parade honoring Dr. King in the Lexington area.

“We are delighted (the parade) will be on his birthday, which is January 15,” said CARE spokesperson Reginald A. Early.

While a group of only about 15 people organized last year’s parade, more than 700 people, and possibly as many as 1,500 people, attended it.

“That number really surpassed our expectations,” said Early. “The greatest success was the number of people who came out to the parade, not only in the Lexington community, but outside the Lexington community as well.”

While many of the people who attended last year’s parade were from the Lexington area, people traveled from Roanoke, Charlottesville and Richmond to march.

“The primary focus is on the Lexington and Rockbridge community,” said Early. “People just heard about (the parade) through word-of-mouth…and they just came.”

Where CARE came from

The group’s initiative began in March of 2016 after Ku Klux Klan fliers were distributed in local residential areas. The group’s first event was an anti-racism rally on March 21, in which residents peacefully gathered on Hopkins Green to denounce the hatred in the KKK pamphlets that were found in Lexington one week prior to the event.

CARE emphasizes that MLK Community Parade is intended to be both family-friendly and non-violent. The group encourages marchers to not engage with any protesters or other individuals not involved in the parade.

“It is not a protest, it is a parade,” said Denny Garvis, treasurer for CARE Rockbridge, noting the goal of the parade is to celebrate inclusivity and the beliefs of all groups of people.

Because the parade will take place on Martin Luther King, Jr., Monday, organizers hope students from both local schools and Washington and Lee University will participate on their day off from school.

While CARE is not affiliated or teaming up with Washington and Lee, CARE recognizes the MLK celebrations at W&L and will not schedule conflicting events. On Jan. 15, Washington and Lee will host Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., to deliver a speech honoring her father.

The CARE Rockbridge website asks marchers to gather at 9:45 a.m. outside of Randolph Street United Methodist Church. The Lee-Jackson Day parade will begin at 11:15 a.m. in front of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.