Category Archives: Virginia history


Woodrow W. “Buddy” Dowdy. Photo credit: Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a nice column today remembering people in Virginia politics and government whose deaths in 2021 may have gone largely unnoticed. For those interested in recent political history, you may want to check it out. During my time around Capitol Square, I knew and have fond memories of Frank Hargrove, the Hanover County Republican delegate who annually put in a bill to abolish the death penalty, and Buddy Dowdy, the Capitol Police officer who died of COVID-19.

Does Jim Ryan Value Jefferson’s Legacy?

by Walter Smith

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan has stated that, as long as he holds office, the Thomas Jefferson statue in front of the Rotunda will remain in place. UVa’s founder, he says, will not be de-memorialized.

Talk is cheap. When given a golden opportunity to publicize Jefferson’s contribution to religious freedom — the 2019 publication of “Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom” — Ryan took a pass. Neither he nor the administration’s propaganda organ, UVA Today (AKA UVA Pravda), have made mention of this important scholarship by Robert Louis Wilken, a UVa professor of the history of Christianity. Continue reading

Jefferson Defended

by James A. Bacon

I was proud of the University of Virginia last night.

The Young Americans for Freedom organized an event, “Defending Thomas Jefferson,” featuring National Review editor Rich Lowry and Texas Congressman Chip Roy, both UVa alumni. Organizers believe it was the first time that conservative speakers from outside the university had been invited since former Senator Rick Santorum had appeared four or five years ago. (It’s been so long that memories were hazy about the details).

Many posts on social media had been critical, and there were rumblings that a protest might be organized. But university police posted outside the Newcomb Hall lecture room provided security, and nothing remotely unpleasant occurred.

More than 150 people attended the event, which easily met expectations. What I found most encouraging was the healthy contingent of Black students who came to hear what the defenders of the university’s founder might say. One could deduce that many were not sympathetic to the views of the speakers because they sat silently through the applause lines. But they listened respectfully and, when the time came for questions, a number asked questions that were pointed but polite. (I am pleased to note that one Black student, who spoke with an African accent, said that she found Jefferson inspiring.)

The event was exactly what a great university should be doing — exposing students to different perspectives and facilitating the civil exchange of views. I am delighted that the Jefferson Council played a role in helping make it happen.

(View the Young America’s Foundation livestream on YouTube here.)

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Defending Mr. Jefferson

YAF message on UVa’s Beta Bridge.

by James A. Bacon

Tomorrow evening Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, and Texas Congressman Chip Roy, both of whom are University of Virginia alumni, will participate in event entitled, “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson.”

One might not think that the author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia would need a defense. But he indubitably was a slaveholder and is commonly (though less indubitably) said to have raped his slave Sally Hemings, and regardless of his historic contributions in advancing the cause of human freedom, falls short of the standards of perfection held by some in the UVa community.

The discussion is organized by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and, I am pleased to say, is backed by The Jefferson Council, an organization with which I am affiliated. It is scheduled for 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 28) at Newcomb Hall.

It turns out that not only is the historical interpretation of Thomas Jefferson controversial, the very idea that one might endeavor to defend his reputation is as well. The event is experiencing blowback from elements at the university. Continue reading

The Anti-Racist History of Vouchers in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

The school choice movement — and vouchers in particular — are portrayed by proponents of public school monopolies as elitist and racist in origin. According to historian Nancy MacLean, the idea for vouchers came out of Virginia’s Massive Resistance to school integration as a way to transfer white children from integrated schools into private “segregation academies.” This widely accepted view is has been little disputed.

Until now. Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Phillip W. Magness with the American Enterprise Institute says the critics of vouchers have their history backward. The voucher idea originated with economist Milton Friedman as a way to advance integration. Writes Magness: “Virginia’s segregationist hard-liners recognized the likely outcomes and began attacking school choice as an existential threat to their white-supremacist order.”

That’s right, integrationists proposed vouchers as a way to integrate schools, and segregationists opposed them for precisely the same reason. Continue reading

Lee, a Study in Contradictions

By Bill O’Keefe

Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contains an opinion piece — “How Do I Tell the Story of Robert E. Lee,” by Allen Guelzo a professor at Princeton University. It came to me from a colleague of his whom I casually know but respect. Guezlo is about to publish “Robert E. Lee: A Life,” and the opinion piece is about his struggle to do so fairly. His book represents seven years of effort and, as he himself states, “Lee is a study in contradictions.” Dealing with those contradictions fairly would explain a seven-year undertaking.

Guelzo makes his challenge clear with this statement: “There are some biographies that are almost impossible to write, but write them we must. Biography demands a close encounter with a subject, an entrance into motive, perception and explanation. The intimacy of that encounter carries with it the danger of dulling the edge of the historian’s moral judgment — and that kind of judgment is what makes historical inquiry worthwhile, something more than a mere jumble of events and dates.”

Guezlo brings out the point, often overlooked, that Lee believed that slavery was “a moral and political evil in any country,” but that he also believed, as did others, that blacks were better off as slaves than living in Africa. Perhaps that is how many slave owners soothed their consciences. Continue reading

What We Want the Future to Know About 2020

Janice Underwood and First Lady Pam Northern place items in new time capsule Photo credit: Bob Brown/Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Several  commenters to the previous post on the removal of the Lee Monument expressed interest in the items that were placed in the new time capsule that was to be placed in the base of the former Lee Monument.

According to a news release from the Governor’s office, these are the items: Continue reading

Lee Monument Removed

Photo Credit: Bob Brown/Times Dispatch

Yesterday morning the Lee Monument, the last major and most prominent celebration of the Lost Cause, was removed. Virginia and Richmond have now truly embraced the 21st Century.

Make “Contextualization” Open, Vibrant, Dogma-Free

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia has taken down the statue of Indian fighter George Rogers Clark and is expunging other monuments and tributes to individuals who fall short of lofty, progressive 21st-century ideals. President Jim Ryan has promised that the statue to Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder, will stay. But it will be “contextualized.”

What that contextualization will look like is anybody’s guess. The project has been handed to the “Naming and Memorials Committee” for elaboration. Will Jefferson be portrayed as a founding father and progenitor of principles that guide the United States today… or a slave-holding rapist? It is too early to say.

What we do know is that considerable thought has been given to the machinery of contextualization. Whatever the message may be, it will be delivered digitally. Envision standing near the Jefferson statue, or the Rotunda, or the Lawn, or other spots deemed worth of recognition, such as the Black Bus Stop, the Ginger Scott Case, or the Coat and Tie Rebellion. You can take out your smart phone, scan a QR code, and access text and audio descriptions.

But there are warning flags galore as to where this initiative is heading. Continue reading

On the Renaming of Community Colleges

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A school task force has recommended that John Tyler Community College be renamed Brightpoint Community College.

I can understand getting rid of the John Tyler name. He was a slaveholder and a member of the Confederate Congress. He also happened to be a former president of the United States, but only because William Henry Harrison died from pneumonia after a month in office. Tyler was not a founding father and his presidency was undistinguished.

But Brightpoint? I’m sorry, but that is a stupid name. It sounds like one of those made-up names for banks. Continue reading

Community College Libels the Man It Was Named For

Lord Thomas Fairfax

by John Thomson

Present-day controversies on renaming institutions are often about whether we judge the worth of our historical figures by the singular issue of slave-owning.

One particular controversy needs a referee to call a foul: over a historian’s error in a biography of the English lord, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1693-1781).

Fairfax lived at Greenway Court, one mile from White Post, Virginia. He had moved from England to manage 5 million acres of an inherited land grant. He resided here, became a part of local history, and was buried in Winchester.

Several decades after the biography was published, the error was unearthed and recently used to justify effacing his name from the local 50-year-old Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC). Continue reading

A Cavalier Disregard for Historical Documentation

Map of South America showing the meridian dividing the new world in Pope Alexander VI’s papal bull.

The University of Virginia in recent years has devoted considerable resources to an excavation of unpleasant aspects of its past, from slavery and Jim Crow to the dispossession of land from the Monacan Indians. Other than the controversy over Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, the scholarly findings have rarely been disputed. Perhaps this scholarship warrants a closer look.

Steve Adkins, an amateur historian who claims 25,000 hours of independent study, alleges several factual errors in the Encyclopedia Virginia maintained by UVa as well as UVa professor Jeffrey Hantman’s book, “Monacan Millennium.” In the narrative below, he describes the failure of Hantman, the University of Virginia Press, and university authorities to correct them. His account delves into historical minutiae that may enthrall only antiquarians. But his charge that UVa humanities and social sciences are afflicted with “an arrogant facts-be-damned, circle-the-wagons culture” may be of interest to a wider audience. — JAB

The loss of academic freedom on American campuses has been accompanied by the erosion of academic rigor. I offer this outsider’s glimpse.
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Wait, What? Was Patrick Henry a Good Guy or a Bad Guy?

Patrick Henry

by James A. Bacon

Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing in the Northam administration? On the one hand (as recounted on this blog), the State Board for Community Colleges has ordered the Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) in Martinsville to change its name. Henry, once revered as a founding father, is now problematic. He owned slaves. The PHCC board is resisting the name change, and the dispute is ongoing.

Meanwhile, nine days ago, Governor Ralph Northam issued a proclamation declaring June 29th as “Patrick Henry Day.”

The proclamation cited Henry’s rise to prominence through self study and oratory, his distinguished record as a lawyer and statesman, his participation in the Continental Congress, his immortal words of “Give me liberty or give me death,” his role in drafting Virginia’s first state constitution, and his service as Virginia’s first governor after independence. Continue reading

Disrespecting Stonewall Jackson Dishonors All Those Who Fought Under Him

Civil War reenactors as the Stonewall Brigade. Photo credit:

by Donald Smith

When we think about wars, we often think of the great commanders who led the armies and navies that fought those wars. Mention World War II, and names like Eisenhower, Halsey, Rommel and Yamamoto come to mind. If you think of the American Revolution, quickly you’ll find yourself thinking of Washington, Cornwallis, Greene, etc… And, especially in Virginia, if you think about the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson will most likely cross your mind.

We remember generals for their leadership and decisions — but we also remember them for the armies they trained and led. It was the armies that won the great victories, not the generals. Patton didn’t rescue the 101st at Bastogne*; his Third Army did. Eisenhower didn’t take Omaha Beach; the survivors of the 29th Infantry Division (and many other troops) did. In that sense, the generals serve as symbols of the men who fought under them. The legacy of the general is intertwined with the legacies of the thousands of men and women he commanded.

One of the reasons that VMI’s handling of Stonewall Jackson’s legacy is so disappointing, is that it has impacts beyond Stonewall himself. Jackson has a personal legacy, as a person, a teacher and a battlefield titan. But he is also the most visible symbol of the army command he organized and led to victory after victory in the Civil War. A command which fought from First Manassas to Spotsylvania Court House, and is one of the most famous in American military history—the Stonewall Brigade. Continue reading