Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Happy New Year, Lexington (and a Pretty Good Old Year, Too)!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 11, 2015

Lexington 2014-15 Guide


Later this week the Virginia Flaggers, and various other heritage activists outside agitators will head for Lexington to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, and to protest that city’s ordinance barring non-official government flags from municipal light poles. Again this year, the Virginia Flaggers are calling on everyone who attends to avoid spending any money in town, going so far as to post a convenient map showing the boundaries of the city.

To recap briefly, in the late summer of 2011, the Lexington City Council adopted an ordinance that limited the display of flags on city-owned light poles to the official United States, Virginia and City of Lexington flags. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, this move didn’t impinge on anyone’s individual rights — people are still welcome to display Confederate flags on their own property, parade with them, or loiter on street corners with them. Even their right to act like batshit crazy people remains unaffected by the new ordinance. Personal freedom of expression is alive and well in Lexington.

By barring all flags other than official government ones, the city put itself on solid legal ground. At the time the ordinance was passed, lead Virginia Flagger Susan Hathaway admitted as much, describing the language in the ordinance as “air tight.” The subsequent legal battle in federal court has proved her right, with the Virginia SCV’s challenge to the ordinance being rejected at both the district and circuit court levels.

BootElrodNot long after the City of Lexington passed its ordinance, the Virginia Flaggers announced a couple of other initiatives to get the city’s position reversed. The first was a political campaign (right) to oust the city’s mayor, Mimi Elrod, in the November 2012 municipal elections. That failed when Elrod was handily re-elected with a larger share of the vote than she’d received in 2008. The other initiative was a boycott of businesses in Lexington, the idea being that by making tourism-related small businesses suffer, the Virginia Flaggers would build a groundswell of local support for having the ordinance repealed. This was in spite of the fact that when the City Council held a hearing on the proposed ordinance in 2011, almost all the residents of Lexington who chose to speak on the ordinance expressed support for it; opposition to it came almost entirely from people who don’t actually live in Lexington.

The Virginia Flaggers, and Susan Hathaway in particular, openly acknowledge that the purpose of the boycott is to punish “the town that has turned its back on Lee and Jackson and its rich Confederate heritage.” (Ignore the fact that Lexington and Rockbridge County continue to use Lee and Jackson prominently in their tourism promotion.) Over the last three years the Virginia Flaggers have, from time to time, gleefully pointed to some bad economic news item out of Lexington and taken credit for it. They take considerable pride in claiming to be responsible for imposing economic hardship on their fellow Virginians, which is odd given their tendency to wrap themselves Christian righteousness. Nevertheless, there’s no clear linkage between the Flaggers’ boycott and these events — e.g., the closing of a local theater that had been struggling financially for years prior to the ordinance — and some of their claims, such as increasing unemployment in Lexington since the initiation of the boycott, are patently untrue.

As I’ve noted before, anecdotes about individual businesses and selected datum points don’t really tell the full story. After all, businesses fail and people lose their jobs even in boom times, for reasons that have little to do with the overall local economy. The real story has to be told with the most comprehensive information and data available, and that’s where Lexington’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report comes in.

Lexington’s annual fiscal year (FY) runs from July 1 to June 30. About sixth months after the end of the fiscal year, the city publishes on its website a detailed report on the city’s finances — revenues, expenditures, debt servicing, all that stuff that makes most peoples’ eyes glaze over. (You can download reports going back to FY2010 here.) But there is one table that’s very relevant to anyone interested in measuring the effects of the Virginia Flaggers’ boycott of the city, the one that lists the City of Lexington’s sources of revenue. Three of them are particularly important measures of tourism-related business activities in the city — local sales and use taxes (i.e., people buyin’ stuff), restaurant food taxes (people eatin’ out), and hotel and motel room taxes (people stayin’ overnight). In the absence of hard (and importantly, all-encompassing) data on business activity in Lexington, these numbers seem to be a pretty good indicator of how things are going.

And how are they going? By these important measures, economic activity in Lexington continues to improve, as it has steadily since the Great Recession. With the recent publication of the FY2014 comprehensive report, we now have five years’ worth of annual data, extending back to July 2009, more than two years before the announcement of the boycott. Here are the actual numbers:

Lexington Revenues.xlsx


And the trends:


Sales Tax Revenue:

Lexington Revenues.xlsx


Restaurant and Food Tax Revenue:

Lexington Revenues.xlsx


Motel/Hotel Tax Revenue:

Lexington Revenues.xlsx



So things are looking up in Lexington generally — and steadily — as they have been for years now. There’s no real evidence that the Flaggers’ boycott, that began in the middle of the city’s FY 2012, has had a negative impact on the local economy, much less a substantive one.

That’s not to say that everything’s rosy in Lexington, in terms of the economy. For many years now, Lexington has had a much higher unemployment rate than both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole, but unemployment in Lexington peaked in July 2010, more than a year before the flag ordinance was passed, and has been on a downward trend ever since. (Lexington’s unemployment rate is extremely seasonal, spiking every summer and dropping in the winter, but again that’s a pattern that’s been there for years.) Lexington’s (and Rockbridge County’s) economy draws heavily on Civil War tourism, and that’s likely to drop off some with the end of the sesquicentennial this year. But in broad terms, Lexington appears to be in better shape economically today than it was a year ago, when it was in better shape than the year before, and so on back to 2010.  So congratulations to Lexington on another pretty good year economically, and to an even better year in 2015.




13 Responses

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  1. Jimmy Dick said, on January 11, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    The usual claims of success by the flaggers will not be backed up by reality. They will just continue to prove they are in the waste pile of history with their inaccurate heritage. At the same time they will also prove they are racists by openly consorting with racists while they also deny they are. The photographs and film taken of them this year will be openly displayed accompanied by their denials. Too bad a picture is worth a thousand words.

    Meanwhile, absolutely nothing will change. Also, on January 19, on Robert E. Lee’s birthday, the nation will celebrate Martin Luther King Day. The irony is poetic justice. We will celebrate the life of a man who used nonviolent methods to combat injustice, tyranny, racism, and liberty. The flaggers will be celebrating the life a man who used violence to maintain racism, tyranny, oppression, and slavery.

    Guess what lesson I will be explaining next week when we come back to class after MLK Day?

    • Andy Hall said, on January 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      I expect we’ll hear about how much more awesome the Lexington economy would have been if they’d remained true to their Confederate heritage, as defined by people who don’t live in Lexington. Of course this ignores the fact that Lexington was struggling with things like high unemployment for years before the flag ordinance. But they’ll claim it anyway.

  2. Jimmy Dick said, on January 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    They claim all kinds of things. The facts do not back them up, but then they’re not interested in facts. The statistics prove them wrong on Lexington. I am really not too surprised with the flaggers. They’ve been consistent in proving themselves wrong over the years.

  3. Pat Young said, on January 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks for this post Andy. Lexington does so much to preserve Civil War memory, making it an obvious target for the perpetually outraged.

  4. Leo said, on January 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    It seems to me these “groups” are more interested in flags and poles than history.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 12, 2015 at 4:04 pm

      They’re mainly interested in proving their own un-reconstructed-ness to each other.

      • Leo said, on January 12, 2015 at 4:13 pm

        I am sure they think they are very heroic.

        Their main goal seems to be garnering attention. These “groups” come out of the woodwork during football season here in Oxford to use the university as a soapbox.

  5. Leo said, on January 12, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    This reminds me of the various “groups” who have targeted The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) over the years for changes on campus they do not like. These groups include the Midsouth flaggers, KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, and even the White Nationalist Movement. Despite all their marches, protests and boycotts, they have not scored one success and the university proudly marches toward tomorrow with a more diverse student body than ever.

    In fact, the university’s athletic teams are enjoying major success, student enrolment is up, and the university endowment is at a record high.


    • Andy Hall said, on January 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Probably very few of those people actually have any real ties to Ole Miss, or any particular stake in its future. Same with W&L — the Flaggers couldn’t give two shits about that school apart from keeping the Lee Chapel maximally Confederate-ized.

  6. USGrant said, on February 9, 2017 at 6:54 pm


    “Later this week the Virginia Flaggers, and various other outside agitators…”

    This is EXACTLY what MLK and his entourage was called in every city he visited and caused race riots to occur. Congrats. You just compared the Flaggers with THE civil rights god. I am quite sure the Flaggers approve.

    • Andy Hall said, on February 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      Yes, I’m aware of how the term “agitators” was used during the civil rights movement and against MLK. In fact, complaints about outside agitators coming in to stir up trouble goes back a long way in American history, all the way back into the antebellum era, when that term was applied to abolitionists and others who were perceived to be subversive to the slave power.

      More immediately in this case, however, I was prompted to use that term because the Virginia Flaggers and other heritage groups have a habit of constantly carping about how outsiders are stirring up trouble for Confederate Heritage where none would otherwise exist. If you read what they write and listen to what they say, almost invariably they attribute disputes to some specific individual who, by their lights, has come from outside to make problems for loyal and true Virginians like themselves. The fact that in some cases these “outsiders” have lived in their communities for 20 or 30 years, and been elected to public office by the citizens of that community, makes no damn difference — the Flaggers simply shriek about how these horrible outsiders have come to Virginia and are making trouble where they don’t belong. The Flaggers routinely argue that simply by virtue of having a Confederate ancestor (i.e., a genealogical circumstance they had nothing to do with), they hold greater moral authority over some other community’s affairs than the pubic officials actually elected by the people of that community to represent them. It’s asinine.

      So in referring to the Virginia Flaggers and their fellow travelers as “outside agitators,” my intent was simply to turn their own ridiculous rhetoric on themselves.

      As for anyone confusing Billy Bearden with Martin Luther King, let’s just say I don’t think that’s very likely.

      • USGrant said, on February 9, 2017 at 8:56 pm

        I was wondering about that. Thank you for the clarification. What amuses me about the Flaggers is they claim to know everything historical about the war except for the fact that the Union WON. Of course in reality they know very little history and the little they do know they exaggerate it or distort it for their purposes. Take for one small example these supersized Confederate Flags they fly on very tall flagpoles. While they are very visible to the public, which is their goal, they offer little insight to real history. The Confederate Battle Flags/Naval Jacks were never that large and never flew on flagpoles in this manner during the war. If they really wanted to offer a little real history they would be flying one of the Confederate National Flags from these poles instead.

        What I also find really amusing about the Flaggers, as I alluded to in my earlier post, was the fact the Flaggers would approve of being compared to MLK. They really see themselves as civil rights heroes and claim the Confederacy was multicultural and multiracial. Well, that is only very partly true. Whites ran things, as they did in the North. The Confederacy went to war to preserve slavery and White Supremacy. The North did not go to war at first to end slavery or White Supremacy. The war aims of the North evolved over time and of course ending slavery became a war aim. It was not pretty or perfect. There was much hypocrisy and racism in the North that complicated things. The end result, which was the Union preserved and slavery abolished, came at a terrible price. But it came.

        I would humbly suggest that these localities that are removing the Confederate Flag from public property replace them with modest sized 33, 34, 35 and/or 36 star United States flags flying over modest monuments to honor the triumph of the nation over the slavocracy.

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