Readers Respond

Dem Chief Rebuts Goldman


Paul Goldman incorrectly stated facts in his recent attack on our party in your publication. (Governor Warner's 'Peculiar Priorities'?, March 3). I want to set the record straight.


In a widely distributed press release, the Democratic Party condemned the terrible treatment by the legislature of Judge Verbena Askew as a “lynching.” Congressman Bobby Scott made similar comments. Goldman praised Congressman Scott’s comments on the subject.  Apparently, Goldman did not read our comments.


Neither the Democratic Party nor I support the use of racist symbols. The axe Goldman grinds in this regard relates to the following open letter I wrote last year to former Gov. Douglas Wilder in the wake of his attack on Democratic congressional candidate Ben Jones. The letter of September 23, 2002 , speaks for itself:

Hon. L. Douglas Wilder

Virginia Commonwealth University

Center for Public Policy

919 W. Franklin St

Richmond , VA   23284


Dear Governor Wilder:


I 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 Virginia electorate will benefit from both your questions and the response.  Accordingly, this response to you is also in the form of an Open Letter.


Since 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. 


Ben 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”.


In 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 African-Americans.  


“Cooter Davenport ” 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 campaign.  I am also assured that the Confederate Battle Flag is not used in any other context in Ben Jones’ campaign.


You 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 World Church of the Creator, which is meeting this weekend in Chesterfield County , is a prime example of the type of group that perverts the historical context of this flag and other symbols. Use 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.


However, 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 condoning racism. You stood fast in the face of this criticism.


Ben Jones was an outstanding two-term Democratic Congressman. His support crossed racial, religious and ethnic lines. He proudly advertises in his campaign literature (see his web site) that he has been a committed civil rights supporter since the time of the freedom marches. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP. Like you, Ben condemns bigotry and racism and has fought against it throughout his public life.  Also like you, Ben embodies the American dream. He was raised in Portsmouth , Virginia, in a 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 Congress. He now seeks to extend his public service and the implementation of those values by returning to Congress.


I 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.  Fortunately for Virginia , Doug Wilder was successful then. It will be fortunate for Virginia if Ben Jones is successful now.


Thank 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.

Lawrence H. Framme, III

Chairman, Democratic Party of Virginia


-- March 10, 2003



Paul Goldman's Response to Framme's Rebuttal


Mr. Framme's continued defense of his indefensible support for the flag-waving Confederate flag strategy employed by the Democratic candidate in the seventh congressional district, and his continued baseless criticism of former Governor Wilder on this issue, is totally out of step with the vast majority of Democrats in this state, not to mention Republicans, as discussed today in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Now, if Mr. Framme is speaking for Governor Warner, the titular head of the Party on this issue, then that is one thing, although there is no public indication that he is. And if he is not speaking for the Governor, then these are his personal views on the Confederate Flag.


Paul Goldman


-- March 10, 2003








Letter Writer


Larry Framme, Chairman, Democratic Party of Virginia 





In the March 3, issue, columnist Paul Goldman stated the following in his piece, Governor Warner's 'Peculiar Priorities'?: "The group presently controlling the state Central Committee recently condoned -- again -- the use of symbols offensive to African-

Americans and failed to issue a formal rebuke of the state senators who subjected the first female African-American circuit court jurist to what Congressman Bobby Scott called a "lynch mob," and then voted her off the bench."