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No more Confederate flags at Hollywood Cemetery

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Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, a historic shrine to the South and home to thousands of Confederate graves, has quietly banned Confederate flags.

Visitors first noticed the absence of flags in the summer of 2020, when anti-racism protests in Richmond and much of the United States often targeted rebel symbols. Two people familiar with the cemetery said they learned that Hollywood had taken down the flag, widely seen as a symbol of racism, to temporarily remove a potential target of vandalism.

Two years later, the Confederate flag that was once common in the historic private cemetery is still gone.

As it turns out, the cemetery’s board of directors passed a formal flag ban in 2020 — without a public announcement.

“Hollywood doesn’t have an established practice of posting policies and it’s widely disseminated when boards pass,” said Hollywood spokesman Matt Jenkins, a Richmond attorney and cemetery board member. “We are not a public institution.”

Jenkins provided Virginia Mercury with a copy of the July 2, 2020 Flag Policy.

It said in part, “In the current context of vandalism and destruction of property, the Hollywood Board of Directors has removed all Confederate flags from public view in order to preserve and protect the entire cemetery.”

Jenkins declined to say whether the ban was permanent. “It (policy) has the final say. I would not use the word ‘temporary’ or ‘permanent’.”

The statue of Jefferson Davis was removed from the monument in Richmond on the evening of June 10, 2020. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

In 2020, Confederate statues in and near Richmond’s Monument Avenue began to collapse, some pushed down by protesters and others by the city.

Named for its abundance of holly trees, the 135-acre Hollywood Cemetery is located along the James River, adjacent to the Oregon Hills community. It was founded in 1847 and is owned by the non-profit corporation Hollywood Cemetery Corporation. Hollywood remains a fully functioning cemetery that operates much like a park, welcoming hill walkers to admire stately and artistic tombstones under gorgeous oaks, tulip poplars and cypresses, some of which predate the Civil War.

Hollywood is the resting place of two U.S. presidents, James Monroe and John Taylor; Confederate President Jefferson Davis; several Virginia governors; and other dignitaries.

Hollywood bills itself as “one of the oldest and most beautiful cemeteries in America.”

Hollywood’s most striking feature is its Confederate Graves and Memorial, which includes a 90-foot-tall granite pyramid.

Hollywood used to seek elite, white clients, said Ryan K. Smith, a historian at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said a Confederate flag ban could help Hollywood shake off these racist roots and attract a more diverse public.

“They’ve been concerned, and I think that’s right, about vandalism,” Smith said. “I think Hollywood is also trying to position itself for new audiences in the future, not what it has cultivated in the past.”

In 2019, the Confederate battle flag was flown in large numbers at Hollywood Cemetery. Hollywood now bans the use of the Confederate flag. (Rex Springton/Virginia Mercury Special)

Smith’s 2020 book “The Death and Rebirth of a Southern City” examines the religious, racial and Confederate history of the Richmond cemetery.

“I think (the ban) is a big deal because it shows how far the public’s perception of the federal flag has shifted,” Smith said.

There are several flags of the Confederacy, but by far the most recognized and controversial is the Confederate battle flag. It features a star-studded blue diagonal cross over the red area. While some defend the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, it has long been popular with segregationists and white supremacists.

White supremacist groups gather in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.  (Photo by Jackie Kruszewski/Provided)
White supremacist groups gather in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. (Photo by Jackie Kruszewski/Provided)

News of the ban angered Andrew Bennett Morehead of Hanover County, who has been raising and maintaining the Confederate flag in Hollywood in recent years.

“This is definitely news to me,” said Morehead, commander of the Richmond Regional Brigade for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a traditional group of about 3,500 members in Virginia.

“If there’s an official Hollywood position — Confederate flags of any kind don’t fly — I haven’t seen it on anything I’ve gotten,” Morehead added. He said he believed the 2020 ban was temporary.

“Of all places, the Hollywood Cemetery is a very historic … landmark, like Monument Boulevard, that is succumbing to an awakening society,” Morehead said.

Morehead, the son of a Confederate veteran, has erected several replicas of the Confederate’s third and final flag in Hollywood. The little-known flag is red and white with a square image of the battle flag in the upper left corner.

Enough time has passed since the 2020 protests that Morehead erected a giant third-country flag on a pole next to the tomb of Confederate President Davis in early May. The Confederate flag, which had flown on that post for years, was then taken down during the protests. Morehead later discovered that the newly hoisted flag had been removed. He criticized the cemetery for not celebrating “the people buried there, they put them on the map”.

Tamara Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, said Confederate flags are still allowed in city cemeteries. “There are no rules governing flags on individual graves,” she said in an email.

‘Symbolic murmur’: Disintegration of rebel flag continues as monument falls

“Inner Temple”

Historian Mary H. Mitchell captured Hollywood’s appeal to Confederate lovers in her 1985 book “Hollywood Cemetery: A History of the Southern Temple.”

“Most of the major battles of the war were fought on Virginia soil, and (Richmond) was responsible for a large number of casualties,” Mitchell wrote.

“Richmond became a symbol of what these people fought for — the shrine of the Old South and lost causes… If Richmond is the sanctuary of lost causes, Hollywood is its inner sanctuary.”

Lost Cause is a twisted version of history, propelled by the losers of the Civil War, falsely insisting that the war was not about slavery, that the enslaved were happy, the Confederates were holy, etc.

Hollywood claims to have 18,000 Confederate graves, but modern researchers say that number may be thousands less. Still, Hollywood and the city’s Oakwood Cemetery on the East Side appear to be the two most deadly cemeteries in the Confederacy.

Hollywood, like Richmond and much of the South, seems clear that it is struggling to reconcile its past and present. The Hollywood struggle was evident as early as 1999, when the foreword to Mitchell’s new book was written by the late Hunter Holmes McGuire Jr., a famous Great-grandson of the Confederate surgeon, also a surgeon.

McGuire wrote that Hollywood has a “unique appeal” to the growing number of people fascinated by the American Civil War. Some unreconstructed insurgents came to mourn the ‘lost cause’, but there is a growing realization that in the crucible of sacrifice both sides gained a new and better country. “

Likewise, Hollywood said on its website today that the Confederates “came into war for the noble cause of protecting their homeland from northern aggression…and now we know that the cause was not a failure. The lives of these men, along with the lives of their fellow northerners, , all for the creation of a single, better nation.”

The cemetery’s flag policy doesn’t address the perception of flags, but Hollywood’s Jenkins admits the flags are offensive to many. “Don’t infer from the policy statement that we are insensitive to how many people feel about the flag.”

“Whether and when these flags are appropriate to be flown again in memory of the dead will be determined at a later date,” Hollywood’s statement said. Asked if Hollywood had set a date to revisit the policy, Jenkins said: “No comment.”

vandalism

The potential for these flags to attract vandals is a major concern for Hollywood.

In the summer of 2020, vandals cut a rope and stole a large replica of the Confederation’s third flag. Last year, vandals knocked down several tombstones and spray-painted one, causing $50,000 to $100,000 in damage, even though that wasn’t in the Confederate section of the cemetery.

Jenkins said he was aware of no arrests in those cases.

A recent visit to Hollywood found tourists’ feelings about the flag ban mixed.

“Don’t destroy one man’s legacy for another’s legacy,” said one Civil War enthusiast, who declined to be named.

The man later walked to his car, pulled out a miniature version of the rebels’ third flag, and placed it next to a small Confederate battle flag next to the pyramid.

Nelson Bryant, a Maine native who lives in Henrico County, said he had no problem removing the Confederate flag. Of course, Kobe smiled and said, “Here, I’m the damn Yankees.”

Bryant’s wife Ana, who grew up in Henrico, said: “I would love to see it come back, the battle flag, but not necessarily at this time.” Maybe another generation can handle it better, she said.

“The flag is tied to a lot of things,” she said. “But time will heal it.”

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