Special Opinion to the Mirror by C. Augustus Landis
While there has been much attention given to Jay Ford (a spokesperson for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) and his effort to take down a business in Cape Charles because the owner expressed an opinion he and other woke fellow travelers do not like, there should be even greater concern with his broader agenda.
There should be no doubt, Ford and fellow travelers have, or will have, targets other than a pub in Cape Charles or a Confederate statue in Parksley. Ford has said historic homes built with slave labor should be torn down if used as a venue for social events. This would, then, include Brownsville (Nature Conservancy), Eyre Hall (raises money for Garden Club of Virginia), Ker Place (home of Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society), Barrier Islands Center (promotes watermen as “soul of a culture”), Makemie Memorial (founded Presbyterian Church in America), Bagwell Memorial in Onancock Town Square (he fought with Lee at Appomattox)… the list is long and wonders if it includes churches and cemeteries.
He has also said that historians who have written about the history of the Shore have written “fake” history and the “REAL” history is of racism. In particular, Ford has cited my book, An Introduction to the History of the Virginia Eastern Shore, as “fake” history. My book is a collection of essays on important persons and events in the 400 year history of the Shore . All of which Ford has attacked as “fake” because (he says) the “REAL” history is of oppressive racism. Burn history books or just rewrite the “REAL” history?
Most important to Ford and fellow travelers is removal of the Confederate statute in Parksley and replacement with a memorial that tells of the oppression on black persons by white persons in Eastern Shore history.
In my book , I write of seven persons in Eastern Shore history that historians agree are most important in telling our story. Uniquely important among these people is Anthony Johnson (1605-1670), a freed black slave who achieved the American Dream of life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness which was so elusive to most immigrants whether slave, free. or indentured in the colonial period.
Anthony Johnson was an Angolan slave brought to Jamestown c. 1619-1620. Through hard work and perseverance, he bought his freedom and for his wife and children, acquired 900 acres and had 9 servants, black, white, bonded, and indentured. He also prevailed in court in a landmark case against a white landowner.
Everyone, residents and visitor alike, would appreciate a monument to Anthony Johnson. It would unite and focuses on the positive in Eastern Shore history. It does not focus on division based on racial prejudice and ignorance as in cause of Mr. Ford and fellow travelers.
It is indeed a great misfortune for the people of the Eastern Shore that, because of prejudice and ignorance of Eastern Shore history, Mr. Ford and fellow travelers are unable to see the opportunity to unite and not disparage and divide the people of the Shore.
This is that opportunity.
As to Ford and fellow travelers cause to remove the Confederate statute, the Eastern Shore Post cites the inscription on the monument which says “They fought for conscience sake and right” and Post editor saying “they fought for the vile institution of slavery”. Omitted is an important part of that history they need to understand in meaning of “conscience and right” and what they fought for.
There was no referendum on decision of Southern states to secede from the Union. 854 men, mostly wealthy plantation owners, were selected by the state legislators to attend conventions to decide on secession. 697 voted for and 157 voted against; thus a small group of rich and powerful men (697) decided for 9 million mostly poor people. The voters and Confederate soldiers that fought the War had no voice in the decision.
An important person in Eastern Shore history and Virginia’s entry into the War is Governor Henry Wise (1806-1876) who, after leaving office, informed delegates to the Virginia Secession convention that the Virginia Militia had sworn allegiance to him and he had captured the Federal naval shipyard in Norfolk. Thus , Virginia was in the War. Neither voters or Confederate soldiers represented in the Parksley statue had a vote in Wise’s decision.
Abel Upshur (1790-1844) whom I consider the most consequential and important person in history of the Eastern Shore history gave the legal and constitutional justification for nullification and secession for Virginia. He argued that the states were sovereign from their original formation and had never given up that sovereignty when they entered the union; the Constitution constructed a union that was of a federal (federation) nature distinctly different from a union of a national character. Regardless of the federal character of the union, sovereignty was indivisible and existed only in the individual states When the Post, Ford and fellow travelers say the Confederate soldiers represented in the Parksley statute fought for slavery, they need to understand Upshur Upshur’s writings on nullification and secession were written 20 years before the Civil War and was required reading for a generation of law students at the University of Virginia and William and Mary.I fully support the idea of a monument to celebrate black peoples contribution to Eastern Shore history. Indeed a monument celebrating Anthony Johnson would be a very positive memorial to black history. There is nothing to prevent Mr. Ford, the Post, and fellow travelers from building such a testimonial. There is nothing to prevent Parksley from constructing a narrative that would include Wise, Upshur, and Johnson. Unfortunately, however, Ford, the Post, and fellow travelers only want to erase and rewrite our history as only racist. Their problem is they do not know or care about the history of the Eastern Shore or its people other than their own prejudice persuades.
Ford has often said that racism is endemic to the culture of the people of the Eastern Shore throughout their history. If racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person or group of people because of the color of their skin, then Ford and fellow travelers are very much racist because they denigrate the white people of the Eastern Shore throughout their history because of the color of their skin and presumption of guilt of all.
You can remove the memorials in our history but you cannot remove the history. The memorials to Confederate veterans are not for the Lost Cause but for veterans and all the lost blood. Period.