December 31, 2003 News & Features » Cover Story

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The Recent Unpleasantness 

Enter Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It was his group that protested April’s dedication ceremony for a quarter-million dollar bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln and son Tad at a federal park site in Tredegar Iron Works.

C-SPAN recorded governors and historians as they unveiled the David Frech sculpture to multiethnic applause. Just out of camera range were uniformed protestors with their flags and banners, stirring up rancor that was more than justified, Bowling insists.

“Our cause was advanced solidly that day,” Bowling says. “The National Park Service has alienated hundreds of thousands of Virginians by what they did. If you think I exist in a vacuum, you couldn’t be more wrong.”

Bowling claims membership is up 25 percent in his statewide organization and includes members of many ethnic groups, and that their fight isn’t racist but a reaction to the “degrading of Virginia’s history. People are sick of having their heritage walked on.”

Robert Klein, meanwhile, worries that people won’t be able to walk to the Lincoln statue anyway because there aren’t city signs to point them toward the site. His group, the United States Historical Society, fulfilled Klein’s 30-year dream of memorializing Lincoln’s post-War visit here and will sell miniature versions of the statue to tourists and collectors. “It’s important that people are able to protest,” he acknowledges, “but I don’t think that protest had any effect on the dedication. They were a relatively small group.” A noisy airplane carrying a “Sic Semper Tyrannis” banner overhead was a novel tactic in this struggle for understanding.

Later in 2003, the local Boy Scout council took heat for dropping General Lee in the interest of inclusiveness and stood by the decision despite threats of lost contributions. No word yet on final numbers for new recruits or missing dollars.

The tedious film “Gods and Generals” stirred up considerable hoopla at a Richmond premiere, suggesting that diehard history buffs, some dressed in period crinolines, are willing to suffer for their art. The film left town after an unexpectedly short run.

And as the city school board debates a proposal to jettison J.E.B. Stuart in favor of a contemporary name for an elementary school building, Richmond again asks Isn’t there more important stuff to be dealing with? Or, alternately, where can I buy some black powder for this weekend’s re-enactment? — Deveron Timberlake



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