“The Past Isn’t Dead; Itsn’t Even Past”
Southern History in the News, January-April 2002
History has been described as the “search for a useable past.” How have people
been making use of Southern history while we’ve been studying it these past four
month? The following items (edited for length) appeared in the Washington Post
during the past semester.
This first article speaks to the historic gains of the Republican party in Virginia
General Assembly over the past twenty-five years. In 1975, the Democrats had an
overwhelming 83-17 majority in the House, a 35-5 advantage in the Senate.
Today, Republicans control both the House and the Senate, a remarkable shift that
outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore discussed in his farewell address to the
General Assembly in January.
January 9, 2002
The Washington Post
Gilmore Offers an Upbeat Assessment; Governor Cites Gains By GOP, Car-
Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) said farewell tonight to a General Assembly that
gained a record number of Republicans on his watch but must now repair a state
budget that plunged into a $ 1.3 billion hole during his last year in office.
In his 45-minute speech, Gilmore offered a robust defense of his four years, saying
he had prepared the Old Dominion for the opportunities and perils of the 21st
The 100-seat House chamber was a fitting venue for Gilmore's valedictory, for it
was in those legislative races that Republicans scored their most significant gains,
growing from 49 members four years ago to the record 64 who were sworn in
today after their elections two months ago.
Gilmore said toppling once-mighty Democrats from legislative power and helping
create a climate for a string of statewide victories constituted his singular
achievement, greater even than the car-tax relief program that he rode into office
"The lasting legacy of this administration will not be a single policy or program,
but the new life that we have breathed into our democracy," Gilmore said to
applause from his mostly Republican audience. "We have replaced the single-
party system with a marketplace of ideas. . . . Virginia will never again be mocked
as a 'political museum piece.' "
NOTE: Gilmore was referring to a 1949 study of Southern Politics in which
political scientist V.O. Key described Virginia as a “political museum piece,”
with all the trappings of democracy but none of the substance. Voter turnout was
so small in that era that the Byrd organization had to win support from only 5 to 7
percent of the adult population to nominate its candidate for governor in the
Democratic primary. In the one-party “Solid South” of that day, victory in the
Democratic primary was tantamount to victory in the general election.
This next item suggests that Virginia – like other states throughout the South -- is
still haunted by ghosts of the Confederacy and Jim Crow era. As the article points
out, political controversies over symbols of the Confederate past reveal enduring
tensions beneath a veneer of racial harmony.
January 17, 2002
The Washington Post
Black Caucus Speechless at Va. Flag Ode; Members Say Salute A Reminder
of Past Racism
Black members of Virginia's House of Delegates are protesting the chamber's
decision to begin each day's session by reciting a 30-word salute to the Virginia
flag, a tribute they say is an unwelcome reminder of the massive resistance to
desegregation in the South.
Members of the black caucus, who last week voted unanimously with the rest of
the House to recite the salute, now say they were unaware of its history: It was
written by a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and adopted by
the General Assembly as the state's official flag salute in 1954 -- the year a U.S.
Supreme Court decision ordered public schools to desegregate.
"When you salute the flag, it's an affirmation," said Del. Dwight Clinton Jones (D-
Richmond). "I don't want to affirm a time when Virginia was exclusive and not
inclusive. I feel like I'm affirming the past and the mood of the state at the time."
The dispute over the salute is not the only reminder of Virginia's historic struggles
with racial issues.
Former lieutenant governor John H. Hager (R), the new assistant to the governor
for emergency preparedness, today canceled the keynote speech he was scheduled
to deliver Friday at an event honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and
Stonewall Jackson. His decision to withdraw came after criticism of Gov. Mark R.
Warner (D) from black legislators and others who said he was undermining his
inaugural message of unity by allowing Hager to deliver the speech.
Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder (D), the nation's first elected black
governor, said the disputes over Hager's speech and the salute reflected poorly on
the state's political leadership.
"It's sending a message that really doesn't describe Virginia -- that's the problem
with it," Wilder said.
The state's leaders have struggled for years to maintain racial harmony, clashing on
the wording of the state song, the image of the Confederate flag on license plates,
the creation of a memorial to black tennis great Arthur Ashe and celebration of the
birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Two years ago, the legislature agreed to
separate the holiday honoring Lee and Jackson from that honoring King.
Lawmaking in Virginia "takes place in a city that has battled regularly over these
symbols," said Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia
Commonwealth University. "They are typically related to the deeper values that
people hold and talk about."
In Virginia, the state's flag has once again forced the 100 members of the House of
Delegates to confront the race issue.
Del. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake) is one of several members who has
stopped reciting the salute when the House convenes at noon. This week, he stood
silently, his lips clamped shut, as his colleagues covered their hearts with their
hands and read the salute.
"Don't keep bringing this stuff from the past," Spruill said. "Last time was the
Confederate flag on the license plates. Don't keep rubbing it in. If you let this slide
by, it will be something else."
But other delegates said it is the black lawmakers who are refusing to let the past
be the past.
Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach), who introduced the salute last
week, said he regards it as a "wholesome and healthy and patriotic" message. He
said the intent was not to be divisive, and urged members to take the salute's words
at face value.
"We don't inquire about the values and the feelings and the backgrounds of a
patron of a bill," he said. "We look at what the legislation says. Where does that
stop? Will we have to distance ourselves from the Constitution or the Declaration
of Independence because they were written by slave-owners?"
Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) said legislators should focus their
efforts on balancing the budget.
"This capitol is in Richmond. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. What
are we going to do, move the capitol out of Richmond?" he asked. "There comes a
point when you scratch your head and wonder when we are going to move on to
Here’s a local item on efforts by African Americans to preserve the once-
segregated black high school in Charlottesville as a monument to community life
under Jim Crow and the importance of education in the struggle for racial
February 04, 2002
The Washington Post
Va. City's Past, Future Collide; Charlottesville Split Over Plan To Raze Old
Black High School
These days, it seems everyone in town has a dream for the aging Jefferson School.
Where some educators see a renovated center for preschool children and adults --
the school's primary purpose today -- city planners have long envisioned housing
and shops as part of a revitalized downtown retail district.
Preservationists and some African Americans, meanwhile, talk of turning the
historic building into a museum because it is one of the few remaining schools in
Virginia that knew the pain of both segregation and desegregation. What's more, it
survived the city's attempt at urban renewal in the 1960s, when most of the
historically black Vinegar Hill community was bulldozed, forcing dozens of
families from their homes and businesses and leaving little more than empty lots.
"Everything that has happened to us in Charlottesville is linked to this school," said
Priscilla Whiting, 71, who graduated from Jefferson in 1949 and organized alumni
reunions even after it stopped functioning as a K-12 school in the early 1970s. "It
represented our struggle to simply get an education."
The original Jefferson School was started during Reconstruction by Anna
Gardener, an abolitionist from Nantucket, Mass., who came south to teach former
slaves. The current building dates to the 1870s and was enlarged to its present size
in 1927, when it began to hold high school classes. Before that, many African
American families would send their high school-age children to places such as the
District to be educated.
During the Jim Crow 1930s, Jefferson was one of a half-dozen accredited high
schools for blacks in Virginia. Over the years, it has educated almost every
segment of the Vinegar Hill community, including its youngest and oldest
members, its disabled and its poorest.
City officials talked for a long time of selling the four-acre Jefferson property, but
only in the last year did the City Council move seriously. The discussions of
turning the site into houses and shops, with a small museum of African American
history, occurred mostly in closed-door sessions. The community took little notice.
Then, last month, the School Board voted 4 to 3 to close Jefferson by September,
dispersing its preschool and adult education students throughout the school system.
The board's action galvanized opponents of the sale. As their protests grew more
vocal, the political debacle entangled Mayor Blake Caravati (D), who is running
for reelection this spring. The City Council, led by the mayor, backed off its plans
last week, withdrawing a request for development proposals.
"Distrust has a lot to do with what's going on," said School Board member Muriel
Wiggins, who voted against closing Jefferson. "But it's not a new distrust at all.
The African Americans here saw that all the city was doing was . . . wiping out the
last vestiges of their history."
But there's more to Jefferson than just history, community leaders say. Many credit
its preschool program with giving black children a critical boost as they head into a
school system that has a wide achievement gap between white and black students.
Of the 128 youngsters enrolled in the preschool, 78 percent are African American
and 89 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
It took some time for Jefferson's supporters to rally around the school, however, in
part because its aging alumni are dwindling in numbers and also because the
community now has more young blacks with no connection to the school.
"The City Council was not open with its dealings on Jefferson, but at the same time
we failed to act as a community when we needed to," said Kenneth Martin, who
recently formed a black civic group called Preservation Jefferson.
Things changed last month when former mayor Nancy O'Brien picked up the local
paper one morning and realized how close the property was to being sold. She
called a community meeting, expecting 20 or 30 people to show up. Instead, she
got close to 100.
Those gathered took turns sharing their connection to the school: the student
operettas and dances they'd attended, a teacher named Janie Johnson who was
everyone's favorite. Others spoke of the importance of the school's English-as-a-
Second-Language program and the significance of the building's historic design.
"It was extraordinary. . . . All these people, black and white, were coming together,
needing each other to save this school," O'Brien said. "Jefferson brought us
The next item is one I’m sure you’re all familiar with, the assault on U.Va. students
last February by a group of Charlottesville high school students. I’ve included it
here because of the involvement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and
the controversy over civil-rights inspired “hate crimes” legislation.
February 27, 2002
The Washington Post
U-Va. Town Confronts Questions Of Race; Alleged Attacks By Teens Debated
It is hard to say what was more disturbing to the citizens of this bucolic college
town when a group of teenagers was arrested in a series of sometimes-brutal
assaults on students at the University of Virginia.
It was bad enough that the accused were 10 local high school students who police
believe beat up college students on six occasions just for the thrill of it.
But when a police investigator announced that three of the suspects said they had
chosen targets because they looked different, residents reeled, contemplating how
run-of-the-mill, town-and-gown friction could turn so ugly. The suspects are black,
and the victims are white or Asian. Once the race issue was out in the open, the
police chief hurried to say that the investigation is continuing, that more students
could be charged as accessories and that it is premature to assign motive.
But the attacks already have aroused passion throughout the city, known for its
tolerance, liberalism and the dominance of the university founded by Thomas
Jefferson. With four out of 10 city residents attending the school, and many more
working there, the arrests of black teenagers charged with assaulting mostly white
college students has generated an intense debate over racial issues and the
definition of hate crimes.
A white-rights group called European-American Unity and Rights Organization,
headed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, is publicizing the case
nationwide and demanding that the black teenagers be prosecuted for hate crimes
The European-American Unity and Rights Organization contends that hate-crime
prosecutions are applied unfairly, used only when the victim is a minority. "It's
one-sided," said Vincent Breeding, national director of the group. "There are no
whites who are victims whose assailants are being prosecuted. If we're going to
have a tolerance of diversity in society, it can't be a one-way street."
Ron Doggett, head of the Virginia chapter of the group, said he has asked almost
10,000 people on his nationwide mailing list to pressure city officials to invoke the
hate-crime provision. He also asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene, but
FBI spokesman Lawrence Barry said agents are convinced police are investigating
Alvin Edwards, a former Charlottesville mayor and pastor who has three of the
student suspects in his congregation at Mount Zion Baptist Church, believes class,
not race, lies at the root of the assaults. He said many local teenagers, particularly
African Americans, resent the university because they consider it largely
inaccessible to them. He also doubts race was involved because two students in the
clique, who were questioned and released without charges, are white girls.
"How can it be an attack on whites when whites are involved?" he asked.
Mayor Blake Caravati said the city is approaching the incidents as "a teachable
"Sure, they did wrong, but they're our young men and women who are going to
live in the community a long time," Caravati said. "We need to be supportive of
them. This is an opportunity to talk about the situation, use it to learn and change
our community in a positive way."
Here’s an item that speaks to the influence of the New Christian Right in the South
and the conservative agenda being advanced by Republican lawmakers who have
taken control of the Virginia General Assembly.
February 4, 2002
The Washington Post
Freshmen Plunge Into Lawmaking in Va.; Bills of Mostly Conservative
Delegates Range From Practical to Comical
L. Scott Lingamfelter, a Republican in a sea of Republicans, had a rude awakening
on Day 7 of the 60-day Virginia General Assembly session.
A House of Delegates committee told the rookie lawmaker from Prince William
County that his bill to post the Ten Commandments in public schools was blatantly
Lingamfelter worked feverishly, consulting lawyers, bill writers and fellow
delegates. He arrived at his desk at 6:30 a.m. every day last week to craft a new bill
that will have a shot before the committee today: A montage of historical texts
would go on school walls instead, to ensure the separation of church and state. "I'm
not going to be obdurate about it," said the retired Army colonel. "It's got to be
Lingamfelter is one of 22 new delegates from across Virginia who are getting a
crash course in legalese and parliamentary procedure, the persistence of lobbyists
and the strict pecking order in the 100-member House.
The newcomers are generally younger and more conservative than the lawmakers
they replaced, many of them Democrats forced by Republican redistricting to
Lingamfelter campaigned against raising taxes and for returning conservative
values to everyday life. Other freshman lawmakers include a mortician, a graduate
student and former mayors, local supervisors and prosecutors. Six represent the
Washington suburbs, from Fairfax County to the edge of the Shenandoah Valley.
Some of their constituents identify less with the District than with a rural Virginia
of gun and property rights. But they also crave solutions to the vexing
transportation and school needs wrought by the region's explosive growth.
As a group, the freshman Republicans helped the GOP win historic command of
the House in November. With 64 seats, Republicans have an edge of 30 members.
For the most part, the freshmen's seats are safe; many of their constituencies were
drawn by the partisan redistricting process.
Which leads us to the next item, spurred by charges of “racial gerrymandering”
under the Civil Rights Act of 1965 . . .
March 12, 2002
The Washington Post
Va. Judge Invalidates Legislative Districts
A Virginia judge struck down the General Assembly's 2001 redistricting plan as
unconstitutional today and raised the prospect of political upheaval across the Old
Dominion by ordering new House of Delegates elections this year.
Judge Richard C. Pattisall invalidated Senate and House districts that were redrawn
a year ago by the Republican-controlled legislature, making Virginia's the first
state plan to be struck down since the last U.S. Census.
In a 51-page ruling, Pattisall focused on what he said were unconstitutional district
boundaries and "racial gerrymandering" in Virginia's vast southeastern corner, a
geographically diverse region that includes the old port cities of Norfolk and
Newport News, as well as emerging suburbs and more rural, pine-and-peanut
communities such as Suffolk. Pattisall said he agreed with complaints, advanced
by Democrats during last year's redistricting session and a June legal challenge,
that African Americans were unfairly packed together to confine their voting
strength to the smallest possible number of districts.
But whites also found themselves in new legislative districts that had little to do
with long-held community interests, Pattisall said.
"The evidence clearly demonstrates that the citizens [of 11 cities and counties],
white and black alike, with whom they share common goals, culture, economics,
life-styles and associations, have been removed from their communities of interest
and placed into districts in which they have little, if any, common interest,"
Many voters "are unreasonably burdened in many instances by significant
distances and natural geographic barriers, creating a lack of access to one another,"
Apart from the electoral chaos that Pattisall's ruling could create over the next few
months -- with possible primaries, caucuses and mini-conventions in an otherwise
quiet year for state politics -- the decision will almost certainly touch off a frenzied
round of political jockeying between the major political parties.
The partisan positioning got started late today when Attorney General Jerry W.
Kilgore, the only Republican to hold statewide office in Virginia government,
announced that he will appeal Pattisall's ruling immediately. Kilgore apparently
issued his announcement before notifying Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) or his senior
staffers of the judge's ruling.
Kilgore defended the new legislative boundaries, saying they "were not drawn with
an effort to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. . . . They were drawn
properly with respect to new population data and are constitutionally compact and
Warner issued a brief statement that echoed the judge's ruling, without committing
the state to a course of action.
"The fundamental basis of our democracy is the fair apportionment of elected
representatives to ensure that the voices of all Virginians are heard," Warner said.
"I will review this decision carefully . . . and act in the best interests of all
All members currently serving in the House of Delegates may keep their districts
for now, but those political divisions must never be used again, Pattisall said.
The Bush Justice Department reviewed the Virginia plan last year and approved it.
Here’s another item from the “unfinished civil war” in Virginia . . .
March 15, 2002
Warner Drops Confederate Month; Va. Governor Cites Racial Divisiveness of
Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) declared yesterday that he will break with the decisions
of his two Republican predecessors and issue no proclamation marking April as a
month of Civil War remembrance.
Calling such proclamations a "lightning rod" that does not help bridge divisions
between whites and blacks in Virginia, Warner made the announcement after a 45-
minute meeting with representatives of three Confederate heritage groups. He said
he would continue to hold "a dialogue with all Virginians about our shared history
and future." The groups expressed disappointment with Warner's decision, but it
was immediately hailed by civil rights leaders.
The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters
of the Confederacy and the Heritage Preservation Association had wanted Warner
to renew a proclamation designating April "Confederate History Month."
While expressing dismay with Warner's decision, members of the groups praised
the governor for acknowledging what they called their rightful desire to celebrate
their heritage. They vowed to celebrate Confederate History Month in April with
or without the governor's official stamp of approval.
"The governor was very sympathetic to what we had to say," said Henry Kidd, the
Virginia Division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "We
appreciated Governor Warner's honesty with us."
Ben Jones, a candidate for Congress in southern Virginia and the actor who played
"Cooter" on the television show "Dukes of Hazzard," said the Confederate groups
told Warner that they do not believe their history is a symbol of hate and bigotry.
"We want to reclaim these symbols," Jones said. "These white supremacy groups,
we despise them."
Virginia civil rights leaders welcomed the end of what had become an annual ritual
of divisiveness and recrimination between black Virginians and descendants of
"We believe that's the right thing to do," said Salim A. Khalfani, executive director
of the Virginia chapter of the NAACP in Richmond. "I'm pretty confident that this
won't become a statewide issue again."
"If he [Warner] wants to say it's better for Virginia not to have a proclamation at
all, I think that's fine," said Emmitt Carlton, immediate past president of the
Virginia NAACP. "That certainly was an option that's been on the table in the
Former governor George Allen started the designation during his term in the late
1990s by signing a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It
called the Civil War "a four-year struggle for [Southern] independence and
sovereign rights" and made no mention of slavery.
When James S. Gilmore III became governor, he modified the decree in 1998 by
adding a condemnation of slavery, but it failed to satisfy either defenders of
Confederate heritage or civil rights leaders. The decree called the war "a four-year
tragic, heroic and determined struggle for deeply held beliefs," which were not
identified, and said that slavery "degraded the human spirit."
Last year, Gilmore further modified the proclamation by dropping references to
Confederate History Month, instead designating April as "Virginia's Month for
Remembrance of the Sacrifices and Honor of All Virginians Who Served in the
Civil War." The decree honored those who fought on both sides and said slavery
was "abhorred and condemned by Virginians."
This IRS scam (“slavery tax credits”) has been in the national news . . .
April 13, 2002
The Washington Post
IRS Paid $30 Million In Credits For Slavery; Hoax Led to Claims For $2.7
The Internal Revenue Service, handling more than 100,000 tax returns seeking
nonexistent slavery tax credits, paid out more than $ 30 million in erroneous
refunds in 2000 and 2001.
One IRS employee is under investigation for allegedly helping process returns that
claimed the credit, officials said yesterday. At least 12 current and former IRS
employees, all low-level workers in processing centers, applied to receive such a
While it has been known for years that some fraud artists advertised the false credit
and offered to help African Americans get it -- for a fee -- this is the first indication
that the cost to the government was so high. Many of the mistaken payments,
including one to a former IRS employee, were for $ 43,209. That's the figure
Essence magazine suggested in an article on the subject in 1993 as being the
updated value of 40 acres and a mule, which some freed slaves were given under
an order by a Union general during the Civil War.
Claims for the "reparation credit" totaled $ 2.7 billion in 2001 alone, an IRS
The tax agency is now trying to recover the money it paid out, though officials
would not disclose how much has been collected. In one case, a taxpayer received
$500,000 in refunds, and the IRS said "most" of the money was returned after it
"You've got to look at the big picture," IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. "Our
system does catch the vast, vast majority of these. But things happen, and a check
Starting Monday, the IRS will be begin levying a $500 fine on taxpayers who do
not withdraw the claim if they have been caught.
A number of African American leaders have pushed for some sort of compensation
to blacks for the nation's legacy of slavery, but no law has been enacted.
The agency used to rely on manual detection to catch the false claims, but has
begun using a new computer program that identified 96 percent of returns seeking
The IRS computer program that tracks down false filing has proven successful
simply by picking out returns that seek a credit of around $ 43,000.
Pamela Gardiner, deputy inspector general, said the agency had seen a huge jump
in filings claiming the credit, and one reason may be that so many taxpayers have
begun receiving the refunds. "Schemes all tend to jump as word begins to get out,"
she said. She noted that in some cases couples received more than $ 80,000.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Black
Caucus, said she and other lawmakers have tried hard to get the word out that there
are no such credits.
"People are easily fooled because sometimes someone gets something," Johnson
said. "But they are not legal and should not be considered to be such."
Johnson said it was unfortunate that the IRS has mistakenly paid out so much
money. "All it does is put people in the position to have to pay the money back
with interest and penalties," she said.
Here’s a story on legitimate efforts to secure reparations for slavery via the courts.
March 31, 2002
In lawsuit, three companies show slavery's face beyond the plantation
Imagine slavery, and you'll likely picture black workers stooped over rows of
cotton in the South.
Yet lawyers who recently filed a federal lawsuit seeking corporate reparations for
slavery named three companies far removed from farming, two of them based in
The lawyers, suing on behalf of millions of slave descendants, may eventually
name more than 1,000 companies. But the initial defendants are FleetBoston
Financial Corp., of Boston; insurer Aetna, of Hartford, Conn., and railway
operator CSX Corp., of Richmond, Va. How can this be?
Historians say the lawsuit, whatever its merits, serves as a reminder that slavery
also extended into the Northern economy and, in the Old South, touched many
industries beyond the plantations.
Lawyers for slave descendants picked FleetBoston because Rhode Island slave
trader John Brown was a founder of its 18th century predecessor, Providence
Bank. The bank financed Brown's slave voyages and profited from them, the
FleetBoston has declined comment on the lawsuit.
CSX wants the lawsuit thrown out. In a statement, the rail line said the impacts of
slavery "cannot be attributed to any single company or industry."
In its response to the reparations lawsuit, Aetna said the "events - however
regrettable - occurred hundreds of years ago" and "in no way reflect Aetna today."
And, finally, from this morning’s paper, this reminder: Get your civil war relics
while they last! The civil war battlefields of Northern Virginia are being overrun
April 24, 2002
The Washington Post
In Va., a Vanishing Era
Civil War Relic Hunters Running Out of Relics -- and Places to Look
With metal detectors, shovels and a pack of smokes in their hands and a vision of
El Dorado in their heads, they were looking for a bullet, a button, a belt buckle --
anything that would connect them with the Confederate or Union soldiers who
camped on the open field near Manassas 140 years ago.
But the developer who owned the swath wouldn't let John Blue and his crew mine
the land, forcing them to a smaller plot a half-mile north. To make matters worse,
there already were a handful of relic hunters on that plot before Blue arrived. After
a few hours, the morning's yield amounted to a melted bullet encrusted in mud.
"Ten, 15 years ago you could go out to a site around here and find all kinds of
stuff," said Blue, 29, who has been hunting in the fields of Prince William and
Fauquier counties and Manassas since he was a child. "You come out here now,
and first you have to find a place, then you have to worry about whether there's
anything actually left, because so many people are hunting out there now."
Such experiences are becoming more and more common for many Civil War relic
hunters, who spend their weekends searching for weapons and personal effects
from Northern and Southern troops. Veteran hunters say suburban Virginia and
Maryland, once considered a region of riches for anyone with a metal detector, are
starting to yield fool's gold -- or no gold at all -- as development overtakes the sites
where hundreds of thousands of troops left behind hundreds of thousands of
Many wonder about the future of the somewhat quirky pastime that has been part
of the fabric of the region for generations.
"It's over up here in Northern Virginia and anyplace like it," said Jimmy Wilson,
62, who has been strapping on his metal detector for more than 35 years and owns
a coin and relic shop in Manassas. "Fairfax used to be a gold mine with all the
places you could go. Look at it now. You'd have to go nearly another 30 miles to
find anyplace good."
Many enthusiasts also are finding that developers are becoming more and more
wary that hunters might find something significant -- and throw them off schedule.
Several years ago, for instance, the construction of a McDonald's outside Manassas
was delayed for months because hunters found nine Confederate graves that had to
be studied by experts.
At the same time, hunters say they have become victims of their own success.
Competition from rising numbers of amateurs makes it more difficult to find the
dwindling crop of historical treats.