Mayor should have last word

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 30, 2003

Here we go again. It’s as if with the end of winter, all the looniness that’s been laying dormant trying to keep warm for the past several months is ready to go into full bloom.

On Friday, Mayor E. Dana Dickens III told the News-Herald he had no intention of proclaiming April as Confederate Heritage and History Month.

Let’s hope that’s the last we hear of it.


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But that’s not likely.

The commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Tom Smith Camp already called the mayor a hypocrite and accused him of playing politics.

I have to come down on the mayor’s side on this one. The proclamation is nothing but a hornet’s nest and its best that it be permanently removed from discussion.

It’s a shame that Dickens was put into the position of having to deal with the issue that brought Suffolk national ignominy a year ago when then-Mayor Curtis Milteer caved on the SCV’s request.

In terms of controversy potential, Milteer may as well have proclaimed it Partial Birth Abortion Month.

There’s no good that can come from Suffolk being labeled as &uot;defender of the cause.&uot; This city is in the process of becoming a progressive, first-class community and an image of redneck racism is not what we need to project if we hope to continue to entice top-notch companies to invest here.

I realize that’s a harsh and unfair characterization of what the Sons of Confederate Veterans stand for. For the members, it’s a way to honor the sacrifice of their ancestors and those with whom I personally acquainted in the Tom Smith Camp are not racists. They have every right to be proud of those ancestors and to honor them in any way they see fit, including asking that the mayor issue a proclamation on their behalf.

Nonetheless, the perception in much of the country is of a group that honors the cause for which those ancestors fought and longs for its return – and the membership’s election of national commander who is cozying up with white supremacists does nothing to dispel that image and much to reinforce it.

But whether we like it or not, perception is as important as reality.

Just as the Sons have the right and duty to publicly lobby for recognition of their organization, Mayor Dickens has a duty to do what’s best for all the citizens of Suffolk. The best thing for Suffolk – in terms of both image and the improvement of race relations – is for this issue to go away fast. The Sons should respect the decision and move on.

I somehow doubt, however, that we’ve heard the last of it. City Council has a lot of important work ahead of it – finalizing its budget and updating the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, issues that will greatly impact our future. We need to focus all attention on that and put the past behind us.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.