Category Archives: Virginia history

Jefferson and Madison Legacies Debated in Library Hearing

The Jefferson-Madison Library in Charlottesville. Photo credit: NBC29.

by Ann McLean

From the first comment of “Don’t burn our past!” a June 27th public hearing to discuss striking the names of the two Founding Fathers from the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library turned into verbal fireworks.

Two camps quickly formed. The first five speakers defended Mr. Jefferson, who most realize needs no defense given his revolutionary proclamation that “all men are created equal,” endowed by God with the inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This clarion call inspired freedom throughout the Western world and now around the globe.

“It was Jefferson who pushed to free all people,” said one speaker.

“Mr. Jefferson loved books,” said another. “His books began this library in 1823.”

Yet another noted, “The enemies of Jefferson may not realize it, but they would have no rights at all if Jefferson’s ideas were discarded, as they have been time and time again in world history by regimes led by people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and now Putin. Jefferson’s ideas were truly inspired by God.” Continue reading

Your Alumni Association Dollars at Work

by James A. Bacon

Above is an ad that The Jefferson Council submitted to run in the University of Virginia Alumni Society publication, Virginia. Before I tell you the fate that befell this ad, please take a moment to read it, and then ask yourself: is there anything political about it? Is there anything contentious about it? Is there anything inaccurate about it?

Sure, you might disagree with the thrust of the ad. Maybe you think, as many people at UVa do, that Jefferson deserves to be remembered in history as a slave-holding rapist. But, really, do you find anything objectionable about the facts, the quotes or the tenor of the presentation?

Now, you might think that the association representing the alumni of the university that Jefferson founded might be willing to publish a paid ad defending his reputation. And you would be wrong. Continue reading

A New Classic on Thomas Jefferson and Public Education in Virginia

Courtesy University of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a group of Nobel Prize winners at a dinner in their honor at The White House.

Kennedy, raised patrician, classically educated and fired in war and politics graciously toasted another such man.

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

The polymath Jefferson saved the indulgence of a great passion, public education, and the creation of a new style of American university, until his last years.

Influenced early by the writings on education of Sir Francis Bacon and John Locke, he completely re-imagined higher education in America from what consisted in 1800 largely of a few colleges teaching religion and the classics under church leadership and funding.

Jefferson’s idea of the university was an institution publicly funded and teaching republican ideals for the preservation of the form of government he and the other founders had labored so hard and risked so much to bring about.

His idea emphasized education in history, languages, the principles of the Enlightenment and the sciences, with graduate schools in law and medicine. Of these disciplines, he thought history to be the most critical of all to the preservation of freedom.

He banned the teaching of religion in his university. The powerful evangelical Christian churches in Virginia were not amused. They and the Federalists fought him endlessly and nearly won.

Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy has written a vivid and lively account of those contests and Jefferson’s indomitable skill and endurance in facing and overcoming opposition to his vision. Continue reading

No Rest Even for the Dead

The American culture wars have moved way beyond the removal of statues of prominent Confederate statues from visible public places like Richmond’s Monument Avenue or any number of county courthouses. The wars have morphed into a cultural cleansing designed to obliterate symbols and traditions that have great meaning to a large segment of the population. Here’s an update from Washington & Lee University from Thomas P. Rideout, class of 1963, on the ongoing battle over the Lee Sanctuary. — JAB

For those of you not aware, Washington and Lee plans to build a permanent wall in Lee Chapel which will forever separate the Valentine recumbent statue gravesite of Robert E. Lee from the sanctuary seating and stage area in Lee Chapel. This is all to appease persons uncomfortable with the sight of Lee in final repose when they enter the Chapel. Alternative locations for mandatory attendance are or can be made available on campus. Washington and Lee is throwing out respect, honor, and basic public access to the Lee story, which has been a part of Washington and Lee and Lexington history for decades. Continue reading

The Continuing Transformation of Virginia Politics

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Toscano, David.  Bellwether:  Virginia’s Political Transformation, 2006-2020.  Lanham:  Hamilton Books, 2022

In this book, David Toscano, whose prior work was Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives (2021), turns his focus on Virginia.  The author is a former Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates (2006-2020) from Charlottesville and served as the House Minority Leader from 2011 to 2018.

The book can be viewed from several perspectives.  At the highest level, it is an analysis of the changes in Virginia’s demographics and corresponding changes in its electoral politics in the first two decades of this century.  On another level, it is partly a political memoir.  Finally, it is an insider’s account of the legislative personalities and process in Virginia.

It needs to be said up front that this is not a nonpartisan account.  Toscano is a liberal Democrat and he does not try to disguise that fact.  He revels in the expansion of Medicaid, Democrats taking control of the House, and the legislation enacted in the 2020 and 2021 Sessions.  However, he does not demonize Republicans.  His attitude is that Republicans’ positions are legitimate and sincerely held, but generally wrong-headed. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time, Schools Didn’t Need Fancy Buildings, Big Bureaucracies and Trauma Counselors to Teach

Gail Smith

by James A. Bacon

When Gail Smith talks about growing up in 1950s-era Goochland County, she calls her time attending the Second Union Rosenwald School as “the best years of my life.” The two-room schoolhouse was lacking in what we refer to today as “amenities.” But it was supported by the local African-American community, and it had spirit.

There were no school buses in her poor farming community — Smith passed through woods on her trek to and from school. There was no indoor plumbing or running water, either. The boys went to a nearby spring with a bucket and dipper to fetch water. Nor were there grocery stores, much less free meals — students brought their farm-raised lunches in brown bags. There wasn’t even central heating. During cold weather, the boys scoured the woods to gather kindling for the fire. School lasted five hours until 2:15, with time off for two 15-minute breaks. When the kids heard the bell, they hurried back to their classroom. Smith and her contemporaries recall a teacher, Fannie Beale, with great fondness for her firmness and her ability to inspire.

“We were poor but we were happy,” Smith says. “We came to school excited to learn.” She and many classmates went on to earn higher-ed degrees and pursue professional careers. Continue reading

1619–A Portentous Year. A Book Review and Summary

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Horn, James. 1619:  Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy.  New York: Basic Books, 2018.

Notwithstanding the title, this book is not part of the controversial 1619 Project.  The author is currently the most prominent and knowledgeable scholar of early colonial Virginia.  He is the president and chief officer of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, which is responsible for the management of Historic Jamestowne, the original site of the first permanent English colony in America.  As a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal put it, “If anyone today knows colonial Virginia, it is James Horn.”

Relying heavily on primary sources, Horn provides a brief summary of the early years of the colony of Virginia, culminating in  1619, when the “Great Reforms” were instituted.  Although coincidental, Horn declares the meeting of the first representative government and the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619 was “portentous.”  His thesis is that  “1619 marks the inception of the most important political development in American history, the rise of democracy and the emergence of what would in time become one of the nation’s greatest challenges:  the corrosive legacy of racial stereotypes that continues to affect our society today.”

As Horn describes it, the early history of the Virginia colony can be divided into four phases:  1606-1609, the early unruly years; 1609-1619, the military rule years; 1619-1622, the Great Reform; after 1622 and the dissolution of the Virginia Company. Continue reading

Would TJ Be a Republican or Democrat Today?

Red or blue?

by Jim McCarthy

“Don’t know much about history,” admitted Art Garfunkel in the opening line of the 1978 Wonderful World hit song. History was but one of several subjects Mr. Garfunkel recognized as wanting in his store of knowledge. A few lines later, however, he was confident to assert that “one and one is two.” This elemental statement in the context of the first may characterize the general view of John Q. Public.

Wikipedia was created twenty-three years after Garfunkel’s lyrics, providing a ready antidote for the curious to “not knowing much” about a topic. The crowd-sourced online publication offers a baseline of information about scores of topics that can be further researched. It is with Wikipedia that we commence a threshold inquiry into the question of whether Thomas Jefferson today would be a Republican or Democrat.

The historical jury agrees that the Shadwell Virginia Plantation native, the nation’s third President, belonged to the Democratic-Republican party during his terms of national service. That political organization opposed the Federalists who were, at the time, characterized as advocates of central government control and aristocratic attitudes. Thus, in contemporary political party identity, Mr. Jefferson may be deemed moderately bipolar. Continue reading

Comparing Freeman and Lincoln on Race

Douglas Southall Freeman

by Phil Leigh

Based upon a background report on Douglas Southall Freeman (1886-1953) by Dr. Lauranett L. Lee, the University of Richmond removed his name from Mitchell-Freeman Hall owing to his alleged racism. All the good that he had done for the school’s funding and academic reputation as a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Board of Trustees Member and Rector counted for nothing. Even though the midpoint of his adult career was 1930, the university administrators are holding him to today’s racial standards without any allowance for being part of a different era when his racial attitudes were judged moderate and often sympathetic to blacks. Despite their similarity to those of Abraham Lincoln, the University of Richmond demonizes Freeman for his racial beliefs while its leading historian and former president, Edward Ayers, glorifies Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln

In contrast, the university administrators extend Freeman’s critics special allowances concerning time, place, and race. They fault Freeman for opposing interracial marriage, even though 75% of whites and 73% of blacks opposed it in 1968, fifteen years after Freeman’s death. Additionally, when Freeman referred to blacks in his writing he normally did so with the then-respectful term “Negro” as opposed to “colored” or the unmentionable “N-word.” Continue reading

Richmond University Cancels Douglas Southall Freeman

by Phil Leigh

The University of Richmond is “canceling” one of its most distinguished graduates, Douglas Southall Freeman (1886 – 1953). Specifically, they are dropping his name from Mitchell-Freeman Hall.

After leaving Richmond University to earn a PhD at Johns Hopkins, Freeman returned to Virginia’s capital where he joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1909 and, in 1915, at the age of 29 became editor of the Richmond News Leader—a position he held for 34 years. During those years he wrote a four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, a four-volume study of General Lee’s Lieutenants, and finished two volumes of a seven-volume biography of George Washington. He completed four more volumes of the Washington biography after retirement whereas two of his associates finished the seventh volume after his death. The Lee and Washington bios won Pulitzer Prizes and Lee’s Lieutenants put Freeman into a close circle of military friends including Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. Continue reading

Monumental Lies

Emancipation Day Parade, April 1905, Richmond

by Phil Leigh

(March 25, 2022) In this morning’s Richmond Times podcast, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Michael Paul Williams asserts that the reason there were no Confederate monuments in the city until the 1890s and afterward was because whites wanted them to symbolize the return of white supremacy after the end of Reconstruction. He implies that if the statues were intended to honor the fallen soldiers they would have been erected when the war ended in 1865. He further opines that the statues erected as late as the mid-1920s were chiefly intended to reinforce the symbolism of white supremacy while black voices were progressively silenced. He is wrong for two reasons.

First, penniless Southerners were unable to pay for monuments for many years after the war ended. They instead had to content themselves with laying flowers of the graves of the fallen, which sometimes also included Northern soldiers who died while in the South. According to professors William Cooper and Thomas Terrill in their textbook, The American South, as late as 1900 the per capita income percentile ranking in the South was half that of the national average. Even in 1930 it was only 55% of the national average. Continue reading

Slave-Holder Jefferson Paved the Way for Ending Slavery

by Phil Leigh

Critical Race Theory and Identity Politics advocates have gained enough influence to cause many Americans to despise some of our country’s most significant founders. Chief among such founders has been Thomas Jefferson. New York City, for example, removed a 200-year-old statue of Jefferson from its city hall last year.

When race hustlers can persuade us to despise Jefferson, they’re well on their way to transforming America into a country that hates our traditional values. Unlike other countries, America was not founded because her people were of a common race. The nation was founded on ideals that united us. It was organized as a constitutional republic with no ruling family, thereby proclaiming the political equality of all her citizens whom she invested with the freedom to pursue their own interests with minimal government interference. Present attacks on founders focus on what they did not do as opposed to what they did accomplish. Although they didn’t abolish slavery, they did indeed organize the freest country in history. Continue reading

The Battle Over History Never Ceases

Image credit: Pinterest

by Jock Yellott 

Visit the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, and you will find that the Department of Historic Resources is fast-tracking regulations governing the contextualization of “monuments or memorials for Certain War Veterans.”

I object to this fast-tracking. The new regulations will expedite the promulgation of Woke propaganda to litter the Virginia landscape.

The fast-tracked regulations could take effect within months. But if ten people object, the regulations have to go through a full two-year vetting. Which would allow time to add a dose of common sense.

One hopes at least nine more people will add their objections to mine. The 30-day public comment forum commences today, March 14, 2022. That’s the only opportunity to object. So, log in and say something now. Continue reading

Move On, Can’t Have Divisiveness Over Schools

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a comment by a politician that would fit very well in the comments in BR over the last year or so and is in full accord with Governor Youngkin’s effort to “root out” divisive concepts in schools:

“Nothing in my lifetime, and I doubt at any other time in the history of the Commonwealth, has ever come so close to the hearts of the people because it involves the education of our children and grandchildren, and is an effort on the part of extreme left-wingers to instill into them every imaginable spurious doctrine”

The commenter:  Virginia Congressman and former Governor Bill Tuck, in a letter to John H. Daniel, June 17, 1955, on the issue of having Black children attend school with White children.

As the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, said, “It’s like its deja vu all over again.”


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.