Virginians Singing the Blues Over Lyrics : South: Some citizens want to remove racially offensive words from state song, 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginia.' Others, including a Georgia group, contend that doing so would detract from Confederate heritage.


Efforts to remove racially offensive lyrics from Virginia's state song have run into opposition from a Georgia group calling itself the Heritage Preservation Assn.

Announcing that it will oppose attempts in the state Legislature to change the lyrics to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," the group has begun running ads in Richmond newspapers.

"Help us fight political correctness and preserve our Southern heritage!" said a quarter-page ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, paid for by the group, which has recently fought efforts to remove the Confederate battle banner from the Peach State's flag. The two-year-old Atlanta-based group has pledged to fight "anti-Southern discrimination."

"What will they change next? Will they rewrite the lyrics to 'Dixie'? Will they remove our Confederate monuments?" says the association's ad, which also solicits members for an annual fee of $39.95

Lee Collins, president of the association, which began as the Georgia Committee to Save the State Flag in 1992, claimed support from about 25 members in a Danville, Va., chapter and some Richmond lawmakers, although he would not name names. He said the group also has chapters in Florida, South Carolina and California. Chapters are forming in Alabama, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Membership is about 1,000, he said.

Since the Georgia flag controversy, Collins said, his group has tracked so-called "heritage violations," where symbols of the Old South come "under attack."

According to the association, those range from "a bigoted comment about the South," to schoolchildren being prevented from wearing Confederate symbols, to desecration of Confederate grave sites or monuments.

Collins said changing the lyrics of the Virginia song would amount to revising history by placing current value judgments on past deeds and thoughts.

"We have superior paints or canvases today. Does that mean we should repaint Mona Lisa? We just don't think history should be tampered with," he said, adding that, viewed in proper context, the lyrics to "Carry Me Back" would not seem racist.

"Carry Me Back," written by a black man, was adopted by Virginia lawmakers as the state song in 1940. It describes a freed slave yearning to return to his master and his home with words such as "darkey" and "massa." It has sparked controversy since at least 1970, when then-freshman state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder protested its romanticization of slavery.

State Sen. Madison E. Marye (D-Montgomery), who is sponsoring a bill to change the lyrics and substitute race-neutral language, dismissed critics.

"I think they're misguided. I think they have a false sense of values," Marye said. "I'm trying to change the state song so . . . (people) can sing it together without embarrassment."

He challenged the idea that altering the lyrics would dishonor the region's past, adding that "Carry Me Back" was copyrighted more than a decade after the Civil War, in 1878, and that Virginia lawmakers previously amended it upon its adoption as state song.

"I certainly am very proud of my heritage," Marye said. "My grandfather was buried in his Confederate coat. But it's also time to change."

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