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Black leaders call for governor to resign over Confederate Month

April 10, 1997

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Saying Gov. George Allen is trying to ``send us back to slavery,″ black leaders demanded his resignation Thursday for proclaiming April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

``We’re not asking for an apology because only a person who had sensitivity would know that that was an improper thing to do in the first place,″ Linda Byrd-Harden, executive director of Virginia’s NAACP, said inside the Capitol where the Confederate Congress once met.

Allen, a Republican in the last year of a four-year term, last month urged residents to spend April saluting the state’s ``four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights″ during the Civil War.

Many Civil War battles were fought in Virginia, and Richmond was the Confederacy’s capital from 1861 until just before the war ended in April 1865.

Allen was attending the funeral of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. The governor’s spokesman, Ken Stroupe, dismissed the protest as grandstanding by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

``The fact of the matter is that the NAACP has never supported anything that this administration has done,″ Stroupe said. ``People realize how absurd those types of things are.″

Allen is barred by the state constitution from seeking re-election this fall.

NAACP leaders attacked the wording in Allen’s proclamation, which urged Virginians to respect ``the honorable sacrifices of Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens to the cause of liberty.″

``Liberty for whom?″ said Salim Khalfani, the NAACP’s activities director. ``Why should I respect that?″

Ms. Byrd-Harden and the Rev. Curtis Harris of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference asked candidates for state offices this year to take a position on the Confederacy commemoration. And they warned that blacks _ who comprise about 20 percent of the state’s population _ will be listening.

``We will speak our words in the ballot box,″ Harris said. ``The African-American community will rise up and speak to the governor and anybody else who continuously put us down and try to send us back to slavery.″

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