In the ceremonial chambers of the House of Delegates, fresh wreaths of red, white and blue flowers today adorned the memorials to Robert E. Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, heroes whose time is eternal in this old Confederate capital.
There were no rotunda flowers here for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose honor is only grudgingly becoming accepted by some.
While the General Assembly voted a state holiday effective in 1985 that added King's name to the state's traditional Lee-Jackson Day, anticipating the federal holiday by a full year, today's recognition of King's contributions was a low-key affair, even among black legislators.
" It may come to pass that one day the South will recognize its true heroes," Norfolk Del. W.P. Robinson Jr. said in a tribute to King delivered on the floor of the House. "I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Dr. King helped change the face of America . . . the greatest modern example of popular political action . . . . "
Across the marbled hallway, Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, author of the state's 1985 King holiday law and the first black statewide official elected in the South since Reconstruction, presided in the Senate with only a brief timeout for the holiday. Other acknowledgements were made on King's actual birthday last week.
Legislation creating the state holiday passed after more than a decade's effort by Wilder. Jackson and Lee The bill also abolished the state observance of Confederate Memorial Day.
At a community breakfast in Richmond today, Wilder alluded only briefly to his holiday proposal and his upset victory at the polls last November; he focused instead on what he said are the challenges ahead.
"Today, in the land of plenty, there is still hunger; in a country of burgeoning aspiration, there is abject despair and neglect; in a place of fulfillment, there is despondency," Wilder said.
Tonight at Virginia State University, the financially troubled, predominantly black school that some groups fear the state government wants to close, Wilder told a crowd of about 1,000 that the King "agenda is unfinished . . . but Americans everywhere, whether they know it or not, are a bit better off because he lived."
Joining Wilder on stage were university officials and Donald J. Finley, the state secretary of education.
Before Wilder spoke, Calvin Miller, a VSU political scientist, told the young people in the crowd, "You do not know the America your seniors knew . . . one racist by law. Your mothers was called 'girl,' your father called 'boy.'" Miller warned that civil rights gains are not guaranteed. "Many dreams turn into nightmares."
Except for Robinson and Wilder, there was little ceremonial interruption of the legislative process, and certainly no holiday from the 60-day session. "We don't recognize anybody" to take a holiday, Robinson said of the 140-member General Assembly.
The nine-member Legislative Black Caucus did meet in special session today, outlining a broad-based agenda that showed both the diversity and unity of purpose the small faction feels as insiders in the political process that only a few years ago was closed to them.
"As long as we all wished for this day," suggested freshman Del. Mary Christian of Hampton, it was more important to have a "tangible" observance of working for change rather than a simple day of relaxation.
When a spokesman for the NAACP urged the caucus members to attend a 7 a.m. meeting this week on Virginia State, there were predictable and audible groans at the early hour.
"Martin Luther King made greater sacrifices," said Richmond City Council member Henry Marsh. "I'm sure we'll try to make the meeting."