“Do we applaud at a funeral?”
Spoken word artist Jewel “Princess” Johnson’s question came just before she approached the mic under a white tent facing the James River. At her feet were a few white flowers, candles and a framed picture of the deceased: the Confederate flag.
Monday afternoon’s gathering at the Sugar Pad came as Richmond’s contribution to Florida artist John Sims’ call for Confederate flag funerals in the 13 states that seceded from the Union. As a camera streamed the event alongside 12 others on Sims’ website, organizers and performers gave a send off they dubbed “A Belated Burial for the Confederate Flag.”
Organizer Evandra Catherine did little to quell disapproval from Richmond’s proudest Confederate flag proponents -- the Virginia Flaggers. The group has long protested the flag’s removal from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts grounds and defend it as a symbol of heritage. As per usual, they carried Confederate flags outside the VMFA Monday next to the Confederate Memorial Chapel.
But at the other end of Richmond -- a few blocks from the center of its once bustling slave trade -- Catherine called the flag’s continued presence “ongoing psychological terrorism.”
“The flag in its inception may not have been harmful, but it’s become something that’s been harmful,” Catherine said. “We’re not doing this in disrespect, but as a way to bring together our history.”
Fellow organizer Darlene Anita Scott struck a similar tone with her eulogy, followed by Johnson’s piece, “I’m Not Anti-White, I’m Just Really, Really, Really Pro-Black.” Johnson reflected on appropriation of black culture and the lingering effects of slavery. Spoken word artist Jamil Jasey then performed a piece that asked questions about Richmond’s gentrification and ongoing racism.
Then, around 20 mourners gathered by the the river. Sugar Pad organizer Rick Tatnall, shovel in hand, helped Catherine and Scott return a tiny Confederate flag to the earth.
Gathering back at the tent, Catherine said she hoped for unity. “We are the United States of America. We should honor that one flag.”