Last month I predicted in this blog that the Virginia General Assembly would reject a proposed lynching resolution. Today I’m trying to decide on the best way to cook crow.
Members of the state Senate passed the resolution on Wednesday, and those in the House passed it yesterday. Both votes were unanimous.
I was also wrong in describing the resolution as “moderate.” It is not. The resolution is written with the frankness of someone who is finally able to say how he or she really feels. It traces the history of racism in Virginia from slavery, through lynching, to disenfranchisement, forced segregation, and denied civil rights. It concludes that this legacy “has yet to be uprooted in Virginia.”
Much of the credit for the document goes to Zann Nelson, a researcher, writer and Culpeper activist. Nelson explained this week that she was drawn to the topic while researching the lynching of Allie Thompson in Culpeper in 1918. She thought there must be some way of apologizing to Thompson’s descendants and to the descendants of Virginia’s other lynching victims. “It’s long overdue to put this topic on the table,” she said.
Nelson found allies in the General Assembly, including Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and the state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission. The result of this partnership was a document modeled after the Assembly’s 2007 resolution that apologized for the state’s role in slavery.
The lynching resolution “acknowledges with profound regret the existence and acceptance” of lynching in Virginia. It calls on the King Commission to compile a database of the state’s lynch victims, and it asks the Department of Historic Resources to identify sites where markers can be erected.
The first of these markers is scheduled to be placed in Charles City County this spring. It recalls the death of Isaac Brandon in 1892. Brandon was accused of the assault of a white woman. A mob of masked men abducted him from the county jail and hanged him from a tree in the courthouse yard.
There are many other cases like Brandon’s that await public notice. By one count, there’s at least 109 of them.
PS: Please join me on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 9:30 a.m. I’ll be at Germanna Community College (Fredericksburg Area Campus, 10000 Germanna Point Drive) to talk about my book, The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, and about lynching in Virginia.