In Virginia, More to 'Get Over' Than Slavery

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, January 20, 2007

On last Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Frank D. Hargrove, a Republican lawmaker in Virginia's House of Delegates, said that instead of seeking a formal apology from the commonwealth for slavery, "black citizens should get over it." Hargrove also reportedly wondered how far such apologies should go. "Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?"

Frank Hargrove is one reason that young African Americans should never take their hard-won rights for granted. His outlook is also a wake-up call to some of my Jewish friends who think they have it made.

He has nothing I want, including an apology. But I'm not getting over slavery.

There's nothing quite like going to a county office building down in Culpeper County, Va., and finding evidence of your family's enslavement. I did that several years ago.

Pages of land records confirmed the story I had heard since I was a young boy: that my late mother's maiden name, Colbert (my first name), was taken from a white Culpeper County family that had the last name Colbert and that owned my great-grandfather and his siblings before the Civil War.

The documented portrayal of my bloodline isn't easily forgotten. Those relatives of mine were considered legal property, which explains why they were listed by name, with individually assigned monetary value, among the inventory of farm implements, barnyard animals and other Colbert-owned assets.

"Get over it." Not likely.

Hargrove was correct when he told the House of Delegates on Tuesday that "not a soul in this legislature" had anything to do with slavery. It was before their time. But Virginia's shameful history on race is not limited to slavery.

Hargrove, who will be 80 next week, cannot escape the fact that he and many white Virginians alive today were present when the spirit of Jim Crow reigned supreme in the Old Dominion.

Hargrove was 17 when the Virginia legislature passed a law requiring separate white and black waiting rooms at airports. Surely he must have heard about that.

When Hargrove was 29, Sen. Harry Byrd declared massive resistance to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision desegregating public schools. Did he miss that?

What did 31-year-old Hargrove think in 1958 when the General Assembly passed a series of laws to prevent school desegregation, including a measure forbidding state funds to be spent on integrated schools? That was a memorable year. And the next year, Prince Edward County went to an extreme to protect lily-white education. It closed the school system rather than integrate.

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