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Gender Equality Film Coming to the Byrd

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Groups pushing for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will screen a film Tuesday night at the Byrd Theatre about gender discrimination and its impact on American society.

The film, “Equal Means Equal,” is a documentary directed by Kamala Lopez, who has spent several years studying the topic. She heads an organization also called Equal Means Equal.

“I believe that the addition of a gender equality clause to the United States Constitution is not only the first necessary action to fix the problem, but the ONLY single action that will effectively begin to address what is a systemic and institutional crisis,” Lopez has written.

If added to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA would guarantee that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The screening of “Equal Means Equal” will take place at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.

The ERA has a long history. It was originally written by suffragist Alice Paul and introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1923. In 1972, Congress approved the amendment and sent it to the states.

A constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. But only 35 approved the ERA before the deadline (originally 1979 and later extended to 1982).

However, ERA supporters say there’s a legal basis for waiving the deadline. The Nevada Legislature ratified the amendment last year, and groups like Women Matter hope Virginia will follow suit.

Katie Hornung from Women Matter said many people are unaware that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women.

“With women just getting really engaged politically all of a sudden in ways they haven’t been, there has been a push for education about what rights are and aren’t in the Constitution,” Hornung said.

The fight to ratify the ERA may have gained momentum with the national discourse about sexual harassment and gender equity and social media campaigns such as #metoo and #yesallwomen.

Three resolutions have been introduced before the 2018 General Assembly to have Virginia ratify the ERA:

A similar proposal by Surovell was killed in the Senate Rules Committee last year. His legislative assistant, Philip Scranage, said Surovell believes the amendment has a better chance this time around.

His optimism stems partly from the election of 12 additional women to the Virginia House of Delegates, bringing hopes of change for this legislative session.

Outgoing Governor Urges Lawmakers to ‘Work Together’

 By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivered his farewell State of the Commonwealth Address on the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2018 session, making a final plea for legislators to expand Medicaid and saying the state is in good hands as he passes the baton to a fellow Democrat, Ralph Northam.

With a smile, McAuliffe took the podium Wednesday night before a joint session of the House and Senate as he announced his pleasure to address the General Assembly “one final time.” The Republican side of the chamber appeared silent while Democratic lawmakers stood, cheered and banged their desks in appreciation.

Once again, McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income Americans.

“The chief issue that demands your attention is making a clear statement that, in a new Virginia economy, health care is not a privilege for the few – it is a right for all,” McAuliffe said. “Put the politics aside. It’s time to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In his address, McAuliffe said that at his inauguration, he promised to maintain the state’s reputation for strong fiscal management, to make Virginia the greatest place in the world for veterans, military service members and their families, and to be a brick wall to protect the rights of women and LGBT Virginians from discrimination.

“Four years later, we have kept those promises,” McAuliffe said. “And we are a Commonwealth of greater equality, justice and opportunity for all people as a result. That is a legacy we can all be proud of.”

McAuliffe spoke not just to legislators but to everyday Virginians as he recited progress the state had made during his term.

“In the coming years, I hope you will build on that foundation by using your voices and your votes to make Virginia more equal, more just and more prosperous for all people, no matter whom they are, where they live or whom they love,” McAuliffe said.

He took notice of political battles, such as Republicans suing him for contempt when he attempted to restore, in one fell swoop, the voting rights of about 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

McAuliffe established the record for the most bills vetoed during his time in office – a total of 120.

“I absolutely hated having to veto a record 120 bills – but those bills took Virginia in the wrong direction,” McAuliffe said. “They attacked women’s rights, equality for LGBT people and access to the voting booth. They hurt the environment, and they made Virginia less safe. I honestly wish they’d never made it to my desk.”

McAuliffe received several standing ovations during his address, but perhaps the loudest followed his statements regarding Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed protesting a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in August. Everyone on the floor took the moment to stand and applaud for the remarks about Heyer.

McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was elected governor in November 2013, defeating Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

During his term, Republicans had a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates, making it difficult for McAuliffe to pass his key priorities, such as expanding Medicaid. But Democrats made big gains in last fall’s elections. As McAuliffe leaves office, the GOP holds a slim margin in both the House and Senate.

“Virginia is a different place than it was four years ago, and for that we should all be proud. But there is still more work to do,” McAuliffe said.

He later added, “As I look across this room, I see many new faces. The people of Virginia, in their wisdom, have made significant changes to the composition of this General Assembly with a simple message in mind: work together to get things done.”

In their response to McAuliffe’s speech, Republicans took issue with his rosy assessment of the state’s economy. They said that Virginia has been eclipsed by other states and that McAuliffe has neglected rural areas, especially the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.

“With fierce competition between states to attract and retain businesses,” said Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge. “Virginia simply cannot afford to stagnate. Our past achievements will not sustain a prosperous future.”

Sen. A. Benton Chafin, R-Russell, said McAuliffe put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage with other energy-rich states.

“The last four years has seen some very pitched and contentious battles here in Richmond,” Chafin said. “Gov. McAuliffe began his term by initiating and championing a nearly four-month-long budget stalemate. Now, he is concluding his term by advancing the very same proposals that nearly resulted in our first-ever government shutdown.”

Monday marks 50th anniversary of ‘Loving’ decision

By Chelsea Jackson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In Caroline County in the 1950s, Richard and Mildred Loving began an important story that would become an award-winning film: falling in love, getting married and then getting thrown in jail – because he was white, she was black and Virginia had outlawed interracial marriage.

As depicted in the movie “Loving,” the young couple faced ostracism and threats of violence. Eventually, they went to court to challenge the state’s ban against miscegenation. On June 12, 1967, that case – Loving v. Virginia – produced a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws in 16 states prohibiting interracial marriage.

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the ruling. Supporters call it Loving Day– a day to reflect on and celebrate multicultural unions.

The founder of the Loving Day website, Ken Tanabe, has a personal connection to the celebration.

“The Lovings’ story and case are important to me because my father is from Japan, my mother is from Belgium, and I was born in the U.S. Without the Lovings, I may never have been born. I’m humbled by their struggle and grateful for their perseverance,” said Tanabe, an art director, animator and educator in New York.

The website lists dozens of Loving Day events that will be held around the world, including in Paris and Tokyo, and across the United States – from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.

No events are listed in Virginia, the Lovings’ home state. But state officials will mark the occasion by dedicating a “Loving v. Virginia” historical highway marker. Gov. Terry McAuliffe will speak at the dedication, which will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at 1111 E. Broad St. in Richmond. (The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will erect the marker in Caroline County.)

“Though it has been 50 years since the Loving decision, it’s still important to share their story and educate people about its significance. According to a Gallup poll, 11 percent of Americans still disapprove of interracial marriage,” Tanabe said. “As Loving Day celebrations spread across cities in the U.S. and around the world, so does a more positive and nuanced conversation about who we are.”

While Loving Day celebrations spread, another couple from Pennsylvania is using their story to commemorate the Lovings’ place in history.

Farrah Parkes and Brad Linder are an interracial couple in Philadelphia and creators of The Loving Project. The pair produce a biweekly podcast that chronicles the everyday lives of interracial couples.

The project has received a positive response; it was featured on IndieWire’s list of “must-listen podcasts” for 2017.

For Linder and Parkes, the Lovings’ case holds significance because without it, they may have never had the chance to be together.

“For me, it is sort of the ultimate civil rights issue because it gives me my right to be who I am,” Parkes said. “I couldn’t imagine someone telling me no.”

In the podcast series, Linder and Parkes interview other interracial couples, including same-sex couples.

Richard Loving died in 1975 and Mildred Loving in 2008. They may not be here to see the lasting impacts of their brave fight for a basic right, but it can be seen all around. According to the Pew Research Center, one in six newlyweds is intermarried.

But the circumstances that led to Loving v. Virginia still elicit strong feelings of injustice.

“It was obscene and absurd to have a law on the books that made it illegal for whites and blacks to marry,” said Ana Edwards, who chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project, which is devoted to civil rights.

“My parents married in 1960. My mother is white; my father is black. Aside from the myriad feelings that come from getting married at the tender age of 22 and 23, there must also have been the tightness in the belly from knowing that you are taking a step that society as a whole is not quite ready to accept.”

Text of the ‘Loving’ highway marker

According to the state Department of Historic Resources, here is what the marker will say:

Loving v. Virginia

Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a woman of African American and Virginia Indian descent, married in June 1958 in Washington, D.C., and returned home to Caroline County. In July they were arrested for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail, suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia. The American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully argued their case before the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1966. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage violate the Constitution’s 14th amendment.

State will help clean up historic black cemeteries

By Chelsea Jackson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hollywood Cemetery flaunts pristine iron gates, beautiful mausoleums and monuments, and majestic views of the James River. This gorgeous scenery is sorely lacking at two other historic cemeteries less than 15 minutes down the road.

When created in the 1800s, Evergreen and East End cemeteries were envisioned as high-end resting places for important African-American figures, just as James Monroe, Jefferson Davis and other prominent Caucasians were buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

But today, the African-American graveyards are far from high end. They are marred by cracked headstones, broken fences and overgrown vegetation stretching to the tops of the trees. At Evergreen and East End, rest in peace is more like rest in distress.

The condition of these gravesites could change when House Bill1547 takes effect July 1. Introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, the new law will distribute funds to organizations to assist with the cleanup of “historical African-American cemeteries and graves.”

McQuinn has long had an interest in the cemeteries; she has relatives buried there. She said she appreciates the efforts of volunteers who have worked to spruce up the gravesites.

“I am grateful for the many volunteers and interest that people have taken into helping to maintain to the point that it’s presentable,” McQuinn said.

HB 1547 will benefit cemeteries that were established before 1900 for the interment of African-Americans and are owned by a governmental entity or nonprofit group. Under the law, the state will help cover the cost of maintaining such sites. Eligible cemeteries will receive at least $5 for each grave, monument or marker for an individual “who lived at any time between January 1, 1800, and January 1, 1900.”

East End Cemetery in Henrico County has 4,875 graves that qualify for assistance; Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond has 2,100.

John Shuck is the site coordinator for the East End Cemetery Cleanup and Restoration Project and the assistant coordinator for a similar effort at Evergreen Cemetery. Shuck had come across the cemeteries while exploring his interest in genealogy more than nine years ago.

Shuck said beautifying the cemeteries is a long-term commitment.

“The first thing you do when you go in there is clear it, but then you have to maintain what you clear. That’s what we’re hoping some of these funds will do,” Shuck said.

The two cemeteries hold the remains of African-Americans who had a significant impact on Richmond, Virginia and the nation. They include pioneering business leaders Maggie Walker and Hezekiah F. Johnathan and crusading newspaper editor John Mitchell.

Given the stature of such figures, how did the cemeteries fall into a state of neglect?

Shuck attributed the lack of attention to the migration of black families up north for jobs during the Depression, leaving no one to care for the graves.

But many people believe race also was a factor.

“I don’t think that the interest nor the commitment was made to that cemetery like Hollywood Cemetery received,” McQuinn said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe made that point when he signed HB 1547 on May 17. He said the new law will remedy a long-standing injustice. “Unlike Confederate cemeteries, black gravesites have gone centuries without state funds allocated for their maintenance and preservation,” he said.

McAuliffe said the state has made annual payments to maintain Confederate gravesites. In addition, in 1914, the General Assembly appropriated $8,000 – the equivalent of $190,000 in today’s dollars – to improve Hollywood Cemetery. And in 1997, the state provided $30,000 to restore Confederate graves at Oakwood Cemetery, less than two miles from the dilapidated African-American cemeteries.

Under the new law, Evergreen and East End cemeteries finally will receive financial help, too. McQuinn has hopes of creating a “garden of reflection” where people can come to learn and connect with their history. That will take money, but McQuinn is optimistic it will materialize.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will get there,” she said.

Want to help? Here’s how

Evergreen and East End cemeteries need volunteers to help with cleanup and maintenance. If you want to volunteer or would like more information, contact Marvin Harris at mharris@mapinv.com or John Shuck at jshuck @rocketmail.com.

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