By Maria Rachal
The city of Lexington has yet to finalize exact plans for how it will handle the many parade requests it has received for January around Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
According to City Manager Noah Simon, the current parade schedule will likely include “Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County,” or ACTBAC, a southern heritage group from North Carolina, on Friday, Jan. 13.
Then, on Saturday, Jan. 14, the Community Anti-Racism Education initiative of Rockbridge (CARE), will host its parade, which organizers say is intended to be a celebration of community diversity. CARE was the first group to request and gain parade approval from the Lexington City Council on Oct. 20.
The Stonewall Brigade of Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), which has historically paraded on the Saturday of Lee-Jackson Day weekend, will most likely host its event on Sunday, Jan. 15. The group had not yet requested a parade permit at the time of CARE’s city council approval.
And on Monday, The Virginia Flaggers group is intending to round out the long weekend with its parade.
The city council will address The Virginia Flaggers’ request at its meeting Thursday night. The council will likely approve the group’s request to parade from 10 a.m. to noon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Simon said that the only reason why the ACTBAC and SCV requests aren’t also up for discussion on Thursday is because he’s still awaiting details from the groups on exact times and routes.
Despite concerns expressed in city council discussions about how the parades might take a toll on local businesses and law enforcement, Simon said that the people of Lexington should anticipate a busy parade weekend in January.
“I am expecting all four parades,” he said. “It’s a free speech issue and there are certain constitutional liberties that are guaranteed: freedom to assemble.”
The Virginia Flaggers offered to swap dates with CARE to restore the tradition of a Lee-Jackson celebration on Saturday and allow for a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on Monday. CARE declined the offer.
In response to CARE’s unwillingness to change, a Nov. 3 post on The Virginia Flaggers’ website said, “Their sole intent was and remains to disrupt the historically peaceful Lee-Jackson commemorations and cause division and discord in the community.”
The post continued to say, “We have been contacted by folks from across the country who are making plans to rally to Lexington for the first time, in support of Lee and Jackson and in response to the actions taken by C.A.R.E. We fully expect this will draw even more heritage supporters to Lexington and are looking forward to our biggest crowds yet.”
The Virginia Flaggers’ sentiments seemed to echo those of an Oct. 27 press release from The Stonewall Brigade that said, “The Stonewall Brigade SCV believes the actions of CARE and others to disrupt the Lee-Jackson Day events is simply an effort to promote hatred for our ancestors and us and attempt to cause confrontation.”
But Dr. Frederick Coye Heard, an assistant professor of English at VMI and spokesman for CARE, defended the group’s decision to maintain its Saturday position.
“We chose Saturday primarily because that’s the best day for open participation … we want to have that opportunity available to people who would be working on Monday, or students at VMI who are in class on Monday, or students at W&L who have other activities and obligations there on campus on Monday,” he said. “There’s really nothing controversial about having a parade celebrating Dr. King – his life and legacy – on the weekend of his national holiday.”
He added that CARE has just as much right to parade that weekend as any of the confederate heritage groups.
“The response to our receiving the permit from various groups like the SCV and The Virginia Flaggers sort of showed us what we already felt all along, which was that the town of Lexington and its citizens were being held hostage,” he said. “So in some ways that has galvanized our commitment to do work here for the people of Lexington, from the people of Lexington.”
Simon said that once the January weekend has come and gone, the council will likely draft some parade regulations in order to manage similarly unexpected and overwhelming situations in the future.
“We will create, for lack of a better term, the parade policy,” he said. “But we need to deal with what’s immediately in front of us first before we look at that longer term parade policy.”