He had taught me to venerate Confederate history.
By Maria Santos Bier August 25
The Rev. William M. Aitcheson was my childhood priest and my history teacher. A fervent advocate of the Confederacy, he used to joke about “Saint Robert E. Lee” in his homilies at church. When I was in middle school in the early 2000s, he taught a Civil War history class for the home-school group at my church in the small Shenandoah County town of Woodstock, Va.
He was also a former Ku Klux Klan member, who in 1982 was fined $26,000 for burning crosses in the yard of an African American family and on the grounds of two Jewish establishments — a fine he had never paid. Before that, he was charged with six cross-burnings in Maryland and with sending a threatening letter to Coretta Scott King. He had also been charged with making pipe bombs and was found with various weapons and bombmaking materials in his bedroom and basement. But I didn’t uncover those latter facts until this month, when I stumbled onto a discovery that would eventually prompt Aitcheson to step down temporarily from his public ministry. He wrote in an op-ed that his service to God had changed and redeemed him. But I knew he wasn’t being entirely honest.
I remember him as an imposing figure who took his history lessons to us home-schoolers very seriously. He had a reputation for being a bit gruff, but he was never unkind to me, and I recall him fondly. He knew so much about history, and I trusted him when he taught us that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, not slavery; that the South’s cause was noble and just.
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