Ralph bucks past action

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2005

Suffolk is once again officially paying homage to its Civil War history.

On Thursday, Mayor Bobby L. Ralph signed a proclamation

recognizing April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.


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The Tom Smith Camp #1702 of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans asked Ralph to sign the proclamation honoring the 1,500 Confederate soldiers from Suffolk and Nansemond County who fought in the Civil War.

A similar proclamation signed in 2002 by former Mayor Curtis R. Milteer Sr. put Suffolk in the national media spotlight and captured the attention of NAACP leaders from across the country.

Former Mayor E. Dana Dickens III refused to sign the proclamation for the past two years, saying it would create racial division within the city.

Signing the proclamation may not be the &uot;politically correct&uot; thing to do, Ralph said. Nonetheless, it was the right thing to do, he said.

&uot;They were brave men who fought for what they believed in and thought was right,&uot; said Ralph. &uot;With the city promoting Civil War Weekend, I thought it would be inconsistent to not sign it.

&uot;I could not in good conscience say no to their proclamation request.&uot;

SCV Brigade Commander Fred Taylor applauded Ralph’s action, and said it shows the city is finally realizing the importance the Civil War had in shaping the city.

&uot;Being able to get it through is always a surprise, particularly with all the political discourse of the past couple of years,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;…But we have worked hard over the past couple of years to make the Tom Smith Camp a household name in Suffolk.&uot;

The mayor is not required to have Suffolk City Council’s approval to sign proclamations. But because this proclamation is so emotionally charged, Ralph said he informally polled council members for input before deciding to sign it.

Most council members supported his action, he added. He declined to say which council members disagreed with it.

Efforts to reach several council members Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Charles Christian, president of the local NAACP chapter, said he was disappointed-but not surprised-to find that Ralph signed the proclamation.

Although he didn’t elaborate, Christian said he believes the proclamation could potentially have negative ramifications within the city.

&uot;This was an issue that was a negative concern for the city and the state in the past,&uot; Christian said.