At its meeting Dec. 1, Lexington City Council is expected to act on a request by the Stonewall Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to hold a parade in downtown Lexington on Sunday, Jan. 15.
The request is one of several parades that could take place during the January week that includes both Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The city approved in October a parade request for Saturday morning, Jan. 14, by the Community Anti-Racism Education initiative of Rockbridge (CARE).
Organizers say the event is intended to be a celebration of community diversity. CARE was the first group to request and gain a January parade approval from the Lexington City Council.
The CARE request prompted a pro-Confederate flag group known as Virginia Flaggers to submit a parade request for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 16.
The Flaggers withdrew that request two weeks ago, but the group says it would now like to parade on the afternoon of Jan. 14. City Manager Noah Simon rejected that idea. A pro-Confederate flag group from North Carolina has also expressed interest in a parade that weekend, but it has not officially submitted a request.
Despite concerns expressed in city council discussions about how the parades might take a toll on local businesses and law enforcement, Simon has said that the people of Lexington should anticipate a busy parade weekend in January.
The Virginia Flaggers had 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 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.”