British queen arrives in Va.

Friday, May 4, 2007
Queen Elizabeth II greeted the crowd Thursday as she was escorted by Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine at the State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va. (Jim Bourg ~ Associated Press)

RICHMOND, Va. -- Queen Elizabeth II arrived Thursday for the commemoration of Jamestown's 400th anniversary and praised the cultural changes that have occurred since she last visited America's first permanent English settlement 50 years ago.

The last time the queen helped Virginia mark the anniversary of its colonial founding, it was an all-white affair in a state whose government was in open defiance of a 1954 Supreme Court order to desegregate public schools.

"Over the course of my reign and certainly since I first visited Jamestown in 1957, my country has become a much more diverse society just as the commonwealth of Virginia and the whole United States of America have also undergone a major social change," the queen said in speech to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, the first stop on her visit.

"The melting pot metaphor captures one of the great strengths of your country and is an inspiration to others around the world as we face the continuing social challenges ahead," she said.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said the message couldn't be more timely or appropriate.

"This is a moment that brings Virginia together ... in the aftermath of a hard time," Kaine said at a news conference, referring to the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech.

After the speech, the queen met briefly with students and faculty from Virginia Tech, including three who were wounded. Among them was Katelyn Carney, who was shot in the hand during the massacre and presented the queen with a bracelet with 32 polished stones -- one for each person slain -- in the school's colors, maroon and orange. Virginia Tech president Charles W. Steger also presented the queen with a school pin.

"My heart goes out to the students, friends and families of those killed and to the many others who have been affected, some of whom I shall be meeting shortly," the queen said during the speech. "On behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, I extend my deepest sympathies at this time of such grief and sorrow."

The plane carrying the 81-year-old queen landed mid-afternoon, and 20 minutes later she emerged with her husband, Prince Philip.

Hundreds of people stood in lines for hours in a cool drizzle, some since dawn, to enter the grounds of the freshly refurbished 219-year-old Capitol.

"How often do you get to see the reigning monarch, much less in your own town?" said Keith Gary, the first spectator through the gates.

Inside the Capitol, the queen met briefly with the lead construction worker on a $105 million, two-year Capitol renovation project that was completed Monday, with high school student body leaders and with 100-year-old Oliver W. Hill.

Hill is a civil rights attorney whose litigation helped bring about the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools.

Frail at 100 years old and in a wheelchair, Hill greeted the queen in the rotunda of the Capitol that once was the seat of Confederate government. He said later he was pleased she noticed the social changes he helped broker.

"It's not every day you bump into royalty," Hill said.

In the evening, the queen arrived in Colonial Williamsburg in an open carriage, where she waved a gloved hand at the several thousand people who lined Duke of Gloucester Street, the main street of Virginia's restored 18th-century capital.

She rode in a mustard-yellow carriage called the Landau, named for the town in Germany where such carriages were made. Two horses pulled the carriage less than a half-mile down the tree-lined street, past some original and reconstructed 18th century homes, stores and taverns.

Judy Stillman of Portola Valley, Calif., timed a visit to her daughter in Williamsburg specifically so she could see the queen.

"She's our history," said the 70-year-old Stillman. "England started everything we have now: the law, the wonderful Magna Carta, democracy. We need to know about England. We need to know about the queen."

Associated Press Writers Larry O'Dell in Richmond and Sonja Barisic in Williamsburg contributed to this report.

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