Come learn about Suffolk’s rich past

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

Suffolk has history on just about every corner. North, south, east, and west – there are visible reminders of the city’s place in the Commonwealth of Virginia from colonial days to now. One particularly notable era of Suffolk’s past is the Civil War. A two-day festival highlighting that history – Civil War Heritage Weekend – begins tomorrow.

Located in the Prentis Street area off North Main Street in downtown, the city’s tourism department will present you with re-enactment camps, music, guest speakers who are experts in Civil War history, craftsmen, vendors, and even horse-and-buggy rides through nearby Cedar Hill Cemetery.

In short, this is an excellent way to begin learning about a crucial time in our city and, of course, nation’s growth.

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But the Civil War era is also a time that can still raise people hackles, particularly when it comes to matters of the Confederate flag or groups that regularly celebrate their Southern past. For many people, blacks in particular, such displays smack of racism, even though descendants of confederate veterans, for example, insist otherwise.

You may recall when Councilman Curtis Milteer, the mayor two years ago, signed a proclamation designating April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. This was done at the behest of the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Suffice it to say the signing caused quite a bit of commotion. But as he did last year, Mayor E. Dana Dickens III has refused to make such a declaration because of its divisive nature.

We understand and respect his decision (as we did when Milteer made his), but want to point out the crucial difference between this controversy and the weekend event:

We challenge people to look past the emotional controversy that too often is associated with Southern heritage.

Our Southern history, including the Civil War, too often divides us. This weekend is a chance for people to come together for education and celebration. The re-enactors, displays and activities are not meant to say who is right or wrong, but merely to teach.

We hope you will come out to learn about the richness of Suffolk’s past.