Recent events surrounding Floyd’s annual arts and crafts fair, the presence of a self-professed and discredited civil war "author" and "historian" and reactions stirred by the protests of local residents highlight the unfortunate existence of hate, racism and intolerance in our community.
At Café del Sol Saturday, I ran into one of those who protested and learned she and her husband have received hate mail at their home because they raised concerns about the presence, at the fair, of a Wytheville-born "author" who tries to paint slavery in a sympathetic light. I contributed to that debate with an earlier article on this site and area bloggers Fred First and Colleen Redman have also commented.
Gary Walker has been a regular vendor for years. He’s an amateur historian who self-publishes books about the Civil War and sells them at the event.
He’s also a racist.
His revisionist history warms the hearts of some modern Confederates. After wading through his book, "The Truth about Slavery," I only felt dirty.
I’ve read the book along with others self-published by Walker. Like Trejbal, I felt the need for a long, hot, cleansing shower after wading through his muck of poorly-researched, undocumented revisionist history.
As a journalist, I easily recognize opinion posing as fact and hasty conclusions passed off as research. As an American I understand that Walker and those like him, along with others who oppose him, have a right to express their opinions in a free society. As a Floyd Countian, I am ashamed he did it here.
His presence, indeed his publishing not only of books of elementary-level grammar and sentence construction, along with a coloring book that promotes slavery, reveals the level of racism that remains in our region.
The Ku Klux Klan still holds rallies at Burnt Chimney in Franklin County and still tries to march in parades in Hillsville and other communities. The "n-word" still flows freely in conversations in Floyd County and other places. Amy and I have heard it tossed around in conversation more often in our three years here than in 23 years of living in the Washington, DC, area. I’ve seen it on bumper stickers on local pickups and on t-shirts at the annual Carroll County Gun Show and Flea Market.
When a local resident cannot protest the presence of a racist "author" at a local fair dedicated to arts and crafts without receiving anonymous hate mail then racism and the ignorance and intolerance that accompany it still infects our community.
When I wrote about the situation a couple of weeks ago, some 63 comments – pro and con – followed the article. I deleted a greater number, unfortunately, because they contained racial epithets, hate or threats of violence.
I’ve lost track of the times that a local has approached me at a sporting event or in a downtown restaurant and asked: "Why don’t you write about all the Mexicans who are committing crimes and ending up in court?" Others inquire: "Why don’t you do something about the illegal aliens who are living on welfare in the county?"
When I try, patiently, to explain that the vast majority of cases that hit Floyd County courts involve the same locals from the same families who have been in trouble for generations they turn a deaf ear and walk away.
The folks at Social Services tell me that residents of Mexican descent, for the most part, take care of themselves and don’t ask for handouts from the government. Again, it’s the locals who take the food stamps and apply for assistance.
Sadly, the distrust of those who are different or whose skin is a darker shade remains. I see racism in the upcoming election, where our mailbox overflows with candidate literature containing inflammatory language about immigration. And I see, unfortunately, the same old "us vs. them" rhetoric used by those who claim this latest debate was driven by "outsiders" and not "true Floyd Countians."
As a "Floyd Countian," I see positives out of this mess. While this situation has given a wannabe author more attention than he deserves and his books more consideration than they merit, those negatives are far outweighed by the positive of shining the light on intolerance and racism, both passive and active, that is still part of the undercurrent of life here in Floyd County.
If all of this allows us to recognize, confront and deal with those failings in our community and in our treatment of others, then all this upheaval is worth the disruption.