In 1789, when Culpeper was part of the 5th Congressional District, candidates James Madison and James Monroe duked it out to see who would become its first Representative. One of their debates, concerning the fate of the new Constitution, took place on a snowy Sunday night on the steps outside the Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison, which still stands to this day. That may have been our shining moment.
With a population of 12,063, Culpeper was the forty-seventh largest of Virginia’s 148 counties in 1860. More than half of that population was African American, including 6,675 slaves.
Culpeper’s history regarding its non-white citizens is not admirable. Its legacy continues today with the outcry against our Muslim residents and the Sheriff’s enthusiastic promotion of anti-Muslim training and harassment of our Hispanic residents through the 287(g) program. Our community needs to become one of tolerance, inclusiveness, acceptance, and equal opportunity. Our population is now quite diverse: we’re no longer a sleepy southern backwater – our population is more than 52,000. Twenty-five percent of our population is under the age of 18. Fifteen percent are older than 65. Fifteen percent are black, 11% are Latino, almost 3% are Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American. Women comprise half of our population.
Following the Civil War, Virginia was not readmitted into the United States until 1870, after adopting a new constitution. Culpeper became part of the 8th Congressional District and remained firmly in the hands of the unreconstructed Southern Democrats, under the leadership of John S. Barbour, Jr., who formed a political machine in the late 1880s that dominated Virginia politics for 80 years until the demise of the Byrd Organization in the late 1960s.
Virginia’s Democratic Party embedded Jim Crow laws in the Virginia Constitution of 1901/2, that effectively disenfranchised all blacks and some poor whites. Those with any African ancestry could not serve on juries or run for any office, and so lost any political voice. Most blacks remained disenfranchised until after the mid-1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights movement gained passage of federal legislation to enforce integration and voting rights.
Incredibly, Culpeper has only seen 16 representatives since Reconstruction. One of them, while Culpeper was part of the 8th District, was the notorious Dixiecrat Howard W. Smith, the architect of massive resistance to desegregation, from 1930 to 1966. During his 1964 reelection, at the height of the fight for integration, Culpeper voted for him by a margin of 77.3%. Culpeper was the last county in Virginia to desegregate its public schools.
Culpeper moved from the 8th to the 7th District in 1965. Until this June, the only Democratic primary ever held in the 7th District since the founding of the Republic in 1789, was in 1962, when John O. Marsh beat 4 other candidates and went on to win the general election by 598 votes. and he served four terms, until losing to J. Kenneth Robinson, a member of the Byrd Machine despite being a Republican, in 1970 and Republicans have retained the seat ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Culpeper, ever since moving here nine years ago. I have personally met many of my interlocutors and almost without exception we treat each other with good humor and respect, despite our political differences. We can make that happen for all.
The Declaration reminds us that all men are created equal. If we can’t achieve that in our own communities under our own power, then the Constitution provides us with the mechanism to make it happen: at the polls. Vote on November 6th.
Editors Note: This letter originally appeared on line in the Saturday, July 14th edition
of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.