Special Projects Director
A progressive group which takes credit for a successful push to remove a photo of notorious white supremacist Jason Kessler from Virginia’s Capitol weeks ago now wants a Confederate flag out of the building.
The flag has been part of a display at the Capitol since 2007, according to the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates clerks. The leaders of Progress Virginia said it is a hate symbol that doesn’t belong in a public statehouse.
“Government buildings are for the public,” said Jennifer Lawhorne, a spokesperson for Progress Virginia. “But when those buildings are flying flags that represent the subjugation of other human beings, not all members of the public feel welcome.”
The flag is in a display near the Capitol Visitor’s Center, along with the U.S. flag, Virginia flag and an early-pattern U.S. flag. According to General Assembly clerks, the displays are meant to “help interpret the history” of the Virginia State Capitol building, which housed the government of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The dispute was previously confounded by an exhibit dedicated to Capitol Police nearby the flag — added to the welcome center in late August — which included a photo of Jason Kessler, the “pro-white” organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Lawhorne said Progress Virginia members first noticed Kessler’s photo when they were at the Capitol for a special redistricting session last month. They then started a campaign to encourage people to call the clerks and urge them to take the photo of Kessler and the flag down, using local and statewide media coverage to get the word out.
The clerk’s office and a curator from the Library of Virginia, who organized the exhibit, said they did not realize Kessler was in the photo. The clerks said they removed the photo less than a day after it was brought to their attention.
The debate surrounding the place of Confederate artifacts has had a home in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, for many years. A commission started by Mayor Levar Stoney recommended in July that a monument of Confederate general Jefferson Davis — who was not a Virginia native — should be removed from the city, and that three statues of other generals should have signage added to “reinterpret” their meanings.
In a news release, the clerks said the flags were placed in the visitor’s center because of their “shared historical significance since each had flown over the State Capitol at some point since it began operation in 1788.”
The Capitol is a public museum, with more than 100,000 guests a year, in addition to housing the state legislature. Lawhorne said the display appears to glorify the Confederacy by giving its flag the same treatment as the American flag.
“While we can’t change the fact that Virginia was part of the Confederacy, it is not something to be glorified,” Lawhorne said. “This is a flag that represents traitors to our nation who went to war rather than stop the practice of owning other human beings.”