Opinion, please: Honoring those with a past

YourOpinionMatters How should we honor those whose past includes negative things?

Senior Justice Harry Lee Carrico died Sunday and the governor has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until his burial. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has an obituary for the judge, calling him “a central figure” in the battle over interracial marriage:

In 1966, Mr. Carrico wrote the Supreme Court decision upholding Virginia miscegenation laws, which prohibited marriage between people of different races. The court’s unanimous ruling in Loving vs. Virginia — the case of white man and African-American woman married in Washington, DC, but living in rural Caroline County — was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

An earlier post of mine, reflecting on the death of Mildred Loving, elicited some interesting comments, both in favor and against the man. (I can’t locate the press lease archives of the governor for 2008 to determine if a similar lowering of the flags was done in her honor.) As now-delegate Scott Surovell pointed out in his post at the time, “the last law in the United States prohibiting interracial marriage was repealed in 2000.”

But beyond Carrico is the bigger question of how we honor those who have served the public for a long time but whose legacy includes a stain. I know, for example, that a Norfolk community leader was denied the usual obituary in the local paper when he died because of such a stain.

So my question, dear reader, is this: how, exactly, do you think negative parts of a person’s history should be handled?  Should it be ignored? Should it be a part of every writing, even though it may have occurred years ago?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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7 thoughts on “Opinion, please: Honoring those with a past

  1. I don’t think we should sugar-coat the biographies of those who were on the wrong side of history. Many ordinary people made the right choice, and stood up in spite of danger and retribution. Many ordinary people struggled and sometimes died for rights that we now take for granted. It is disrespectful to these courageous people, like Mildred Loving, to give a pass to those, like Carrico, who misused their positions of power to deny those rights. In my opinion, it is particularly disrespectful to honor someone like Carrico, and the Virginia State Bar should cease to do so, immediately.

  2. I agree your biography should not be sugar coated just like history. I think of all the history books that left items out they thought looked bad. Things change over time and people need to know the real story. You know sometimes people also change over time. I would hope if I did something that thought was right and it turned out not to be right and was able to change I would want that in my biography. If I was wrong I would not want someone to cover it up but would instead hope someone else would learn from it. Sometimes we need to quit looking at people through rose colored glass and see things the way they are. Also I don’t think one bad thing should make you not be mentioned you can’t erase history.

  3. I think it would depend on how they, by their words and actions, understood the wrongs they did. I don’t know what Judge Carrico did or did not do after his discrimnatory ruling, but I would think that at the very least he needed to have publicly admitted that his ruling was wrong, better still if he’d taken some actions to show his contrition. If he never did anything to renounce his ruling, I don’t think he should be honored by the state

  4. Honoring someone for their life’s work involves just that: their life. I don’t believe in sugarcoating to provide cover for someone’s legacy, especially someone like Carrico. There already is a sugar coated example of looking the other way, and it involves the Virginia War Memorial, also named for Paul Galanti, a local sexist Vietnam vet who tried to destroy John Kerry in 2004 as a member of the so-called “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth”.

    It might seem like a reach, but those who have misbehaved at this level do not deserve a high honor. They deserve to be treated according to their actions. Those actions are the true measure.

  5. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. When someone dies it is a time of reflection. All those men and women we honor with National Holidays and public recognition, for example, had major character flaws and extreme acts or moral failure. THIS IS COMMON TO all HUMANS One of the best assignments i got in school decades ago was a teacher broached a subject frought with controvercy. She then asked us to declare if we were pro or con on the issue. The cons ended up writing the pro sides and the pros ending up wrinting the con side it makes u see others perspectives. Imagine if in all honesty and with no restrictions Rush Limbaugh had to write on Reagans failings and a liberal had to address Dr, Kings shortcoming. One of the main reasons i love the bible story of King David is it tells his true story failure and success.

  6. In my view he should be honored, however when his story is told it should be the whole story. Did he get it wrong on Loving v. Virginia? Absolutely. However he also did much to bring the Virginia courts into a modern era. And as Chap Petersen stated on his blog, he overturned the law requiring segragated courtrooms. For good or bad, Justice Carrico was a fixture in Virginia for many years. Overall he was a dedicated jurist and public servant, who, like all of us had his faults.

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