L. Douglas Wilder
for Public Policy
appreciate your Open Letter of yesterday
concerning the Ben Jones for Congress Campaign
and the use of the Confederate Battle Flag in
the campaign. In
light of your history and accomplishments, no
one is better suited to raise the questions you
presented, nor to receive a response to them.
By raising the questions in an Open
Letter, you believe, as I do, that the
electorate will benefit from both your questions
and the response.
Accordingly, this response to you is also
in the form of an Open Letter.
Ben Jones' opponent, Republican Eric Cantor,
raised this issue as a political attack on our
Democratic candidate before you wrote, it is
important that the facts surrounding the use of
the flag by our candidate be clear.
Jones portrayed the character “Cooter
Davenport” in the immensely popular television
series “Dukes of Hazzard”.
The two principle characters in the
series, the Duke brothers, drove a car named the
“General Lee” which had the Confederate
Battle Flag painted on it.
Indeed, the “General Lee” became such
a prominent “character” itself in the show
that identically painted toy cars were marketed
nationally for several years.
I am not aware of any charges raised at
the time of the series’ run that it was racist
or in any way denigrating to African-Americans.
I do recall that in your 1985 campaign
for Lt. Governor you advertised heavily on
reruns of the “Dukes of Hazzard”.
his excellent book on that campaign, “When
Hell Froze Over”, author Dwayne Yancey noted
the comments of your chief campaign strategist,
Paul Goldman, that your advertising on the
“Dukes of Hazzard” was a conscious decision
made to reach a particular type of voter.
(Ironically, the dust cover of Yancey’s
book displays a photograph of you campaigning in
front of the Confederate Battle Flag.)
Knowing your deep commitment to civil
rights, I am confident that you would not have
placed paid advertising on “Dukes of Hazzard”
if you believed its constant display of the
Confederate Battle Flag on an automobile was an
affront to any voters, particularly
was a genial, auto mechanic character in the
series whose job was to keep the “General
Lee” running. As
a result, “Cooter” was closely identified
with the General Lee.
I am assured that the use of the General
Lee in the campaign is as a device to identify
Ben Jones and make him memorable to voters.
This use is not dissimilar to your use of
“Dukes of Hazzard” with the General Lee as
an advertising vehicle for your Lt. Governor
am also assured that the Confederate Battle Flag
is not used in any other context in Ben Jones’
raise an important question as to the meaning of
the Confederate Battle Flag as symbol.
The battle flag is a historic symbol that
means different things to different people.
As the eminent historian Stephen Ambrose
has noted, some groups have hijacked the flag as
a symbol of racism and bigotry.
Ambrose argues eloquently that the flag
must be reclaimed from the perverted use made of
it by these groups. The so-called
Creator, which is meeting this weekend in
, is a
prime example of the type of group that perverts
the historical context of this flag and other
of the battle flag as a symbol of racism is
abhorrent to all Democrats and a significant
portion of other voters.
Its use as such must be condemned.
as you have noted in the past, the use of the
flag is not limited to a symbol of racism.
Legitimate groups celebrating their
Southern heritage in ways that condemn racism,
but extol universal virtues such as gentility,
truth and honor use it.
You have agreed that such groups should
not be robbed of their legitimate use of the
symbol merely because others have abused it in
ways that must be condemned.
I recall you standing to salute the
Confederate Battle Flag approximately two years
ago as you passed under it as it was displayed
over the Richmond Canal Walk.
Your comments on that occasion wisely
noted that the flag was a legitimate symbol for
some and should not be condemned where it was
not displayed as a symbol of racism and bigotry.
You were criticized for your action in
saluting the Confederate Battle Flag as
You stood fast in the face of this
Jones was an outstanding two-term Democratic
support crossed racial, religious and ethnic
proudly advertises in his campaign literature
(see his web site) that he has been a committed
civil rights supporter since the time of the
is a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Like you, Ben condemns bigotry and racism
and has fought against it throughout his public
like you, Ben embodies the American dream.
He was raised in
home without running water.
Like you, he believed that he could
control his destiny with hard work and
dedication to fundamental values.
He rose from that upbringing to become a
nationally recognized talent in theater,
television, music and the United States
now seeks to extend his public service and the
implementation of those values by returning to
recall with pride my involvement in your
campaigns for Lt. Governor and Governor in which
a young man from Church Hill who had also spent
a lifetime believing he could control his
destiny, sought to extend his public service and
help implement his values of determination and
character for the betterment of Virginia.
, Doug Wilder was successful then.
It will be fortunate for
if Ben Jones is successful now.
you for the opportunity to recall your success
as a Democrat and to make clear the principles
upon which you, Ben and our party stand.