July 16, 2007

There are few stories that could capture the style of "development" in southeast Virginia than the speed and carelessness with which developers pave everything for strip malls, including graves in little family plots.

"You moved the headstones but left the bodies, didn't you!"

ARTICLE: Confederate soldier's grave borders upcoming strip mall (The Virginian-Pilot - HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com): "Their family burial ground in Western Branch had been serene for more than 100 years until developers began bulldozing the land bordering it recently to make way for a strip mall. Today, a guardrail is installed a few feet from the headstones for the couple and their children."

This area really needs more strip malls, there are a few open spots without a family dollar, a Walgreens, and a Quzino's Subs. Without some direct action, Chesapeake in particular might fall behind Virginia Beach as the paved over wasteland.

But there is more to this story than just typical runaway development. See, these are just any graves, these are Confederate soldier graves. That means, inevitably, that the local bunch of neo-confederates need to be there to give full honor and flag salutes, all while in period uniform. It is really, er, a moving sight.

If only they could find a family member who gives a shit about the whole thing.

"The sight troubles Rodney Quick, a Portsmouth native and past commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Norfolk County Grays.

James Lassiter joined the Confederacy in the spring of 1861.

Quick is disturbed by the idea that history could be discarded in such a way, that progress trumps sanctity.

"It hurts my heart," Quick said, standing where a metal guardrail post is anchored into the ground near Harriett Lassiter's grave. "It's just sad that progress is rolling over history and rolling over people now."

Rodney Quick

Sons of Confederate Veterans have ordered a marker for the site, their way of paying tribute to a soldier and people who came before them. The group is still searching for living family members.

They would like to give the family a full memorial service next month with 21-gun salute, a First National Flag presentation and taps.

"It doesn't matter if they are black or white, Union or Confederate or sharecroppers," said Keith Morris, commander of the Isle of Wight Avengers, a camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans. "It makes no difference. These graves need to be respected."

The group is researching the Lassiter family's history to learn more about James, Harriett and the others named on smaller tombstones at the burial ground."

Note the phrase "first national flag," that is a good one.

One guesses that just maybe Mr. Quick would not have such a troubled heart and would not be so quick to seek to honor the graves of some unknown black family whose graves are near paving, and whose family members are not around (and indeed, may have been the ones who sold the land to developers in the first place). But, folks, that is only a guess.

Nobody else, including the authorities, gives a hoot.

According to the Department of Historic Resources, a court order is required to remove or relocate a grave in order to use the land for other purposes. There also are state laws that protect graves from being disturbed.

CB Richard Ellis, the real estate brokerage firm handling the new development, did not respond to questions about the burial site. Chesapeake city officials said such issues would not be under their control.

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