Lexington hosted three gatherings in four days that celebrated the lives of three different men–Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
With the deadly Charlottesville protests from August in mind, parade participants and police took precautions to ensure that the holiday weekend was peaceful. State police joined law enforcement officers from several nearby communities to keep watch as the marchers waved flags and chanted slogans.
The events began on Friday afternoon, as members of the Virginia Flaggers and supporters braved the cold temperatures and rain to wave Confederate flags from spots on Lexington’s street corners.
The annual Sons of Confederate Veterans parade kicked off Saturday morning after a memorial service for Jackson and Lee at a local cemetery. Members of the SCV and other southern historical organizations marched through town in full period regalia.
On Monday, nearly 1,000 people marched through the same streets for a parade honoring King. A group called Community Anti-Racism Effort organized the MLK Day parade.
Friday, Jan. 12: Virginia Flaggers assemble downtown
By Rachel Hicks and Hannah Denham
The Virginia Flaggers, an organization that supports maintaining Confederate monuments, gathered to waive Confederate flags Friday in honor of Lee-Jackson Day. According to the organization’s website, flaggers continue to oppose the Lexington City Council decision in 2011 that allowed only city, state and national flags to be flown from city-owned flagpoles. The group wants the city to allow the display of Confederate flags throughout the holiday weekend.
Saturday, Jan. 13: Sons of Confederate Veterans suit up
By Hannah Denham and Paige Williams
On a typical day, 20-year-old Katlin McCreery may have drawn attention for wearing a hoopskirt as she walked down Main Street. But last Saturday, she blended in with other people in similar attire who participated in the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ 19th annual Lee-Jackson Day parade.
“We are descendants that are trying to portray the history that our ancestors lived,” said McCreery, a Civil War era reenactor who said she has attended the Lee-Jackson Day parade for 15 years. “People need to know why we’re here.”
The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans hosts the yearly parade honoring Confederate Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, both buried in Lexington.
Virginia state police joined law enforcement officers from Rockbridge County and Buena Vista to keep watch over the events, said Meredith Warfield, a spokesperson for the city.
Lexington resident Greg Bennett, who said he has marched as a member of the SCV for more than 10 years, said he attended the parade to stand up for a history that is no longer being taught.
“We have such a separation in our country,” he said. “That’s the same type of thing that was happening prior to the [Civil] War.”
Cheryl Szewczyk drove more than three hours from Gettysburg, Pa., to participate in her first Lee-Jackson Day parade. She said she came this year for fellowship and a love of the two Confederate generals.
“I love Civil War history,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of this because I believe we have to preserve our history instead of tearing it down.”
Before the parade began, participants gathered at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery and encircled Jackson’s grave site for a wreath-laying ceremony. The half-mile parade began and processed down Main Street, circled downtown and ended in the parking lot next to Lexington Carriage Company.
Monday, Jan. 15: CARE parade attendance grows as temperatures drop
By Abigail Summerville and Elly Cosgrove
Hundreds of Rockbridge County residents braved the 16-degree weather to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday morning.
“Dr. King’s message was about justice, peace, equality and love, and the statement today is that we, even though he passed 50 years ago, we still want to hold onto the dream and move forward in that vein,” said Pastor McKinley Williams of First Baptist Church of Lexington.
The event was the second annual MLK Day parade hosted by the Community Anti-Racism Effort. Returning marchers said they were amazed at this year’s larger turnout. Organizers estimated that over 800 people participated, according to The Lexington News-Gazette.
CARE was founded in 2016 to speak out against racism, according to its mission statement. The organization holds anti-racism education events and hosts rallies like Monday’s parade. The CARE parade was the third and final event of the weekend.
“Based on the election results from last year, I felt it was time to get involved in something like this,” said Louise Uffelman, a parade marshal and Lexington resident. “I think racial relationships in America have been starting to backslide, and I think it’s important to revisit what’s important about Martin Luther King and what he stood for.”
Uffelman was one of many parade marshals dressed in neon yellow shirts directing marchers. State and local police oversaw the parade and set up road blockades at major intersections.
The parade was a peaceful celebration of King’s legacy with participants chanting, “Who’s community? Our community!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”