Erasing memorials

Posted: Jan 16, 2003 12:00 AM
We said before it would only be a matter of time. We should have said days. If recently dethroned Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was forced to step down from his Senate majority leader post, then why is the late Sen. Richard B. Russell's name attached to the Russell Senate Office Building? "It is time we correct this grave injustice," says Dick Gregory, social activist with the group Change the Name. "Countless numbers of innocent Americans were dragged from their homes and brutally executed during Russell's tenure in the Senate. By blocking every bill to stop these heinous acts, Russell was complicit in these deaths." A Georgia Democrat who in 1969 was elected president pro tempore of the Senate, Russell adamantly opposed civil rights legislation. Elected in 1933 and serving until his death in 1971, the one-time Georgia governor "was a self-proclaimed, unrepentant white supremacist who during his service blocked every anti-lynching bill and significantly weakened or delayed every other civil rights measure considered by the Senate," the group charges. It's estimated that more than 4,500 Americans died at the hands of lynch mobs from the late 19th to mid-20th century, 3,500 of them blacks. While several anti-lynching bills passed the House, none was approved by the Senate. The group demands senators erase the past with a name-removal resolution during next month's 2003 Black History Month. Ironically, when one-time segregationist and just-retired Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat - leading to Lott's downfall more than a half-century later - Russell was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. His bid for the White House also failed in 1952. LEE FOR A LEE Instead of completely removing Richard Russell's name from the Russell Senate Office Building, why not do what the city fathers of Alexandria did when confronted with a politically incorrect figure from America's past? When this columnist was growing up along the cobblestone streets of Alexandria, Va., boyhood home to Robert E. Lee (the city now prefers to ignore its historical link to the Confederate general), I used to play baseball and football at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School. In fact, from 1954 to 1978 the school was named for Robert E. Lee. "Where are you going?" my mother would ask. "Robert E. Lee," I would reply. It was while I was attending college that Robert E. Lee's name was removed. Almost. As the school was transformed into the modern recreational facility it's become today, primarily for the use of underprivileged children in that section of Alexandria (the same class of kids I played sports with), "Robert E. Lee" went down and "Nannie J. Lee" went up. To her credit, Nannie J. Lee (no relation whatsoever to Robert E. Lee) was a community activist, instrumental in the development of the recreational facilities for needy children. Today, instead of the sloppy fields where I played, Alexandria's youngsters have access to the "Nannie J. Lee Center Park" football, baseball and soccer fields, lighted tennis courts, volleyball court, recreation center, gym/basketball court, shuffleboard, billiards, table tennis, bumper pool, board games, arts and crafts, playground and swimming pool. Perhaps one day the city will erect a Robert E. Lee statue. No, of course not. KNOW YOUR FLAG One becomes aware that war is brewing when so many unfamiliar flags are being waved around Washington. To better understand what's being hoisted - and by whom - the patriotic D.C. Chapter of is circulating a color guide of the myriad flags, symbols and messages displayed during recent "antiwar" demonstrations. First on the list, the yellow and green Hezbollah flag, held up throughout the Middle East - and yes, here in Washington - by an Iranian-supported terrorist group operating from Lebanon. Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks against civilians, including the 1983 truck bomb in Lebanon that killed 253 Americans, mostly U.S. Marines and embassy staff. Second, the red, white and black flag of Iraq, ruled since 1979 by a clan-based dictatorship headed by Saddam Hussein. The U.S. government long ago designated Iraq a state sponsor of terrorism, but that hasn't prevented the flag from being carried by protesters in Washington. Next is the flag of the Palestinian Authority, an organization created by the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian agreement (the Oslo Accords) to exercise governmental authority of Palestinian-populated areas in Israel. The guide observes that certain Palestinian neighborhoods were scenes of public celebrations after the killings of 3,000 Americans and foreign nationals in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia on Sept. 11, 2001. Still, the red, white and black Palestinian flag is no stranger to Washington. Take April 20, 2002, for instance, when its flag-bearers also saw fit to trample the U.S. flag while demonstrating outside the White House. The guide's other flags include the yellow and orange International Socialist Organization "fist" symbol; the black Nazi swastika (featured prominently at Washington "antiwar" events, often positioned alongside the Star of David, or superimposed onto the U.S. flag or the flag of Israel to create additional anti-Semitic symbols); the black and white A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) acronym flag; the red flag of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A.; and various other anarchist symbols that are waved by everybody from masked protesters to topless women. Finally, last but not least, the red, white and blue U.S. flag. A country, according to the guide, "that, while not without fault, remains the greatest, freest nation in the history of the world and a beacon of liberty to all mankind." By the way, for those having a difficult time spotting American flags during these "antiwar" protests, the guide observes that their location is often marked by smoke. OVAL OFFICE ALLY Is President Bush more sympathetic than his predecessors on the issue of voting rights for D.C. residents? It was 202 years ago, where Rhodes Tavern once stood, that this city's residents first protested the denial of full democracy and voting rights in Congress. Residents had enjoyed these rights until 1801, when the final transfer of authority over the District was made to Congress. Joe Grano, longtime president of the Rhodes Tavern-D.C. Heritage Society, tells this column that he's received a personal letter from Mr. Bush, in which the president acknowledges receipt of voting-rights petitions being circulated around Washington. "He not only acknowledges receipt of the petition, he wrote a brief letter - it was not a form letter," says Grano. "So somebody at the White House is taking this petition seriously. I think in the post-Trent Lott world, Republicans want to pay some attention to cities. "By the way," adds Grano, "the president has been the only public official that ever wrote to me concerning the petition, the only one who bothered to take the time, and I think that should be noticed. (D.C. Delegate (and voting-rights activist)) Eleanor Homes Norton didn't write me, (Washington) Mayor Anthony Williams didn't write me, only the president of the United States."
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