GOLDMAN: Will Democrats heed Wilder’s advice on honoring slaves?

Posted at 8:49 AM, Feb 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-10 08:49:07-05

RICHMOND, Va. – A staunchly Republican legislator is expected to ask the House of Delegates today to allow him to introduce a bill containing a cherished goal of many current and former Democratic lawmakers.

But it has nothing to do with politics or partisanship.

The idea always had bipartisan support. It is simply the right thing to do.

“When a thing is right, the time is always right.”

That’s what Doug Wilder told me the first time we sat in his office to discuss trying to make history.

Veteran GOP lawmaker Bob Marshall from Prince William County is proposing a responsible and historically necessary measure to address an old wound from America’s oldest, most vexing issue — slavery.

Sixteen years ago, upstart Henrico legislator Don McEachin tried to get the House of Delegates to pass legislation addressing the same issue.

Marshall’s bill – which he asked me to initially draft – takes a different procedural approach than the one introduced by now Senator McEachin.

The Marshall Bill creates a Governor’s Commission to do the work necessary.

But policy-wise the two measures are the same. Each is premised on making sure the state ensures that the cemeteries and grave sites for those Virginians held in bondage are properly maintained.

Under current state law, cemeteries and grave sites for Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans are properly maintained, using groups or individuals so authorized to expend state funds for that honorable purpose.

Marshall, as McEachin before him, wants to use the same basic procedure to honor those who sacrificed in a different way for Virginia.

“When a thing is right, the time is always right.”

I took my son last year to see “42” about Jackie Robinson. The Dodger legend is my boyhood hero.

As a young boy, my father first introduced me to Mr. Robinson. I remember coming home one day years later and telling my dad: “He votes Republican!” My father laughed and told me: “Well Paul, everyone is counting on you to set it right.”

It’s been a while ago for sure. But I remember enough of it.

“When a thing is right, the time is always right.”

Top Richmond Democrats in the House of Delegates in 1998 agreed. It is now 2014. They are in far more powerful positions today to make it happen.

Years ago, I had difficulty finding a Richmond legislator to introduce the Elected Mayor legislation in the House of Delegates even though Richmonders voted 80 percent for it in the referendum. Bob Marshall stepped forward and put in the first bill.

The basic idea – giving people their right to elect their Mayor – didn’t originate with my drafting the law, or the Wilder-Bliley Commission endorsing it or, Tim Kaine suggesting it several years before. Indeed the voters had approved the idea a referendum back in the 1990’s.

It can take time, far too much time too often, for politicians to do the right thing.

But that doesn’t take away from Wilder’s advice:

“When a thing is right, the time is always right.”

It is time to locate, as best we can, all these final resting places. These Virginians were treated as property, not people, during their lives. I can’t change this history. No one alive today is responsible for this history. But we can, going forward, do what we can to make sure they are treated as people, as honored Virginians, for the rest of time.

There is a need for other ways to honor their history. They are being discussed already.

But those good ideas don’t take away for what Marshall is proposing, what McEachin and others proposed in the past. A Governor’s Commission seems the best way to make we do what needs to be done.

When a thing is right, the time is always right.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.