By Maria Rachal
The Lexington City Council unanimously approved a permit on Thursday for an anti-racism parade down Main Street that will be held during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend next year.
The parade is set to take place on Saturday, Jan. 14, the same Saturday when the local Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have hosted a Lee-Jackson Day parade for the past 15 years.
There was no competition for the date, though, because SCV representatives generally don’t submit a request so far in advance, said Council Member Marylin Alexander.
“There’s only one permit that’s been approved, because there’s only one permit that has been requested,” she said.
The permit request came from the Community Anti-Racism Education initiative (CARE) of Rockbridge, which was founded in March in response to distribution of Ku Klux Klan materials on various lawns throughout Lexington.
CARE leaders are advertising the parade as a non-partisan gathering to recognize diversity, inclusivity, and nonviolence within the community.
Dozens of people showed up for the city council meeting in support of the event, with many members of CARE speaking.
Washington and Lee University counselor and LGBTQ Coordinator Rallie Snowden said she was “concerned that people of color feel unwelcome” in Lexington because of previous parades, which include numerous Confederate flags.
“This is not how we want Lexington to be known,” said Reginald Early, pastor of Randolph Street United Methodist Church.
Multiple supporters noted that they were not necessarily trying to shut down the rights of the Confederate demonstrators, and believed the two groups could reach a compromise.
Members of the city council expressed concern over potential conflicts that could arise between participants in the two parades.
Alexander said that she doesn’t “want to give into fear, but those fears are real.”
Larry Mann, the city’s general counsel, reminded members that parades are protected by the First Amendment, and a permit cannot be denied on the basis of safety concerns. But the council could look into bolstering law enforcement for the parade following approval, he said.
“There’s no reason not to approve it,” said Council Member Patrick Rhamey, who made the motion to approve the parade permit.
According to The Roanoke Times, the Stonewall Jackson Brigade, the local SCV chapter, plans to submit a request for the following weekend, Jan. 21. This date falls closer to the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19.