Virginia’s ‘big falsehood'
1/25/2019, 6 a.m.
Re Editorial, “Encouraging,” Free Press Jan. 10-12 edition:
How sad and dismaying to watch our elected black leaders, along with black-oriented newspapers like the Richmond Free Press, leap to embrace Virginia’s big falsehood that seeks to erase some of our black history.
What is that big falsehood?
That the Virginia General Assembly in this 2019 session is marking its 400th year.
What is correct is that the General Assembly, then named the House of Burgesses, came into existence in 1619. This is the legislature that would create the laws that made slavery a fact of life and that enabled Virginia to join the rebellion to protect slavery.
But that legislature ended on March 13, 1867. That is when Army Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield brought in U.S. troops to take control of the state and dissolve the recalcitrant, white supremacist legislature that refused to recognize black people as full citizens who had to be allowed to vote.
Maj. Gen. Schofield took control of Military District No. 1, as Virginia became known, following Congress’ passage of the First Reconstruction Act on March 2, 1867. Congress acted to halt Virginia and other defeated rebel states from passing laws to reinstate slavery.
Maj. Gen. Schofield was given full power to run the state, although he worked with civilians. Among other things, he was tasked with ensuring the state wrote a new constitution that granted full rights to black people as a condition for re-admission to the Union.
In the first year of his command, Maj. Gen. Schofield enabled black men to vote for the first time, as was documented in a Library of Virginia exhibit several years ago. That happened on Oct. 22, 1867, Encyclopedia Virginia notes, when people went to the polls to elect delegates to write the new state Constitution.
That Virginia Constitutional Convention included two dozen black men, the encyclopedia continues. That would have been impossible under the old General Assembly.
The new Constitution, ratified by the people on July 6, 1869, put in place the first ever requirement that every city and county provide public schools.
According to the encyclopedia, the passage of the new Constitution led to quick elections of a new General Assembly, which included 26 black delegates and senators. That revamped legislature met for the first time in October 1869 and ratified the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments that recognized black people as citizens with the right to vote.
That also set the stage for Virginia’s readmission to the Union in 1870.
Because of the work of former Richmond state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, plaques in the State Capitol now publicly recognize the black convention delegates and legislators, who were forgotten between 1890 and 1968, when the forces of white supremacy held sway.
Those who promote the 400-year-old legislature are eliminating the memory of Reconstruction and again erasing those influential black political figures.
We need to stand up for the historical truth and not dishonor the historical memory of our courageous forebears who fought to ensure our rightful place in this state and this country.