House barely keeps flag salute alive

RICHMOND — Despite concerns by black legislators, the Virginia House of Delegates narrowly voted 50-48 to continue reciting a salute to the state flag composed by a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The House voted twice Tuesday, both times rejecting a rule change sought by Hampton Delegate Mary T. Christian, D-92nd, chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who wished to end the sa-lute’s recitation. Sixteen of the 64 Re-publican delegates voted to end the salute penned in 1946. Only two Demo-crats voted to retain it.

Both parties over the last two weeks sought but could not agree to a compromise on the salute, such as a change in the wording, and with the deadlock, leaders on both sides wanted to get Tuesday’s vote behind them.

Black delegates and some of their white colleagues, troubled by the salute’s origins, now stand silently facing the flag each day while the rest of the House recites the words: ”I salute the flag of Virginia, with reverence and patriotic devotion to the ‘Mother of States and Statesmen’ which it represents — the ‘Old Dominion,’ where liberty and independence were born.”

The salute was approved by the House without dissent its first day in session, but opposition to the recitation grew after members learned the author had been a member of a Confederate heritage group.

In what was intended as a display of post-Sept. 11 patriotism, the House this year made the Pledge of Allegiance and the state flag salute part of its daily opening ceremony. Most delegates did not know about the salute’s history until they read a newspaper article about it on Jan. 11, the third day of the session.

“I speak for generations of disenfranchised people,” Christian said. “It is not white versus black, it is a response to human feelings Our experiences make the difference in how we feel about things. You have not walked in my shoes.”

There are 10 blacks in the 100-member House.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-8th, said if the salute is offensive because of its author’s background, then many revered documents and pledges in American history would have to be reexamined. He read racist remarks penned by Francis Bellamy, author of the national anthem, to make his point that if the House wanted to be consistent, the national anthem should be dropped as well.

“But when they pen something, of its own, is worthy, we should not disown it,” he said.

“What we’re talking about right now — right now all we’re asking you to do is respect our feelings,” said Delegate Lionell Spruill, D-77th, of Chesapeake. “For some reason, I don’t feel good about it.”

Two Prince William delegates sided with him.

Delegates Michele B. McQuigg, R-51st, and Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, voted to remove the salute in both votes.

“I do think we need to respect the opinions of the members,” McQuigg said. Besides, she said she finds the pledge illiterate as written.

Delegates L. Scott Lingam-felter, R-31st, and John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd, voted against killing the salute.

Delegate Harry J. Parrish, R-50th, abstained on the first vote but in the second vote voted against the removal, ensuring the measure would fail even if two additional no-votes were cast.

Delegate Winsome E. Sears, R-90th, of Norfolk, elected to her first term last year to become the only black House Republican, said she took the salute as a series of facts that did not offend her, but she said she would not recite it because it offended others.

She did not vote in the first vote but voted against the salute in the second vote.

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