CSA flag, monument cost a Georgetown nonprofit its funding

DOVER — The debate over symbols of the Confederate States of America has come to Delaware.

In 2007, the Delaware chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to install a monument in Georgetown honoring the Delawareans who fought — and, in some cases, died — for the Confederacy over a four-year period that splintered the nation.

Since then, the monument has sat on the rear of the Georgetown Historical Society’s property on South Bedford Street, with a Confederate battle flag proudly flying overhead next to a Delaware flag.

In 2019, that monument — the only such Confederate display in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — cost the society a crucial piece of its funding.

For years, the Georgetown Historical Society received state funding through the grant-in-aid bill, which annually allocates money to hundreds of nonprofits across the state. But, with racial tensions in the United States perhaps higher than they have been since the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, Sen. Trey Paradee moved last month to remove the proposed allocation to the group.

One of 12 members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, he was assigned to review the section of the grant-in-aid measure containing arts, historical, cultural and tourism groups, which included the Georgetown Historical Society.

“I find it offensive that the flag of our great state is flown at the same height as the Confederate battle flag, which is frequently displayed together with the Nazi swastika by white supremacist groups, like the KKK, as a symbol of hate and racial intolerance,” the Dover Democrat said in a statement.

“I will not play any role in supporting organizations that continue to celebrate the Confederacy and the traitors who fought for its failed racist ideology of hate and enslavement. To recommend a grant in any amount would be a betrayal to my constituents and every friend of mine who descended from African slaves.

Trey Paradee

“Monuments and flags, like the ones in Georgetown are erected to glorify and honor individuals and events. They serve no ‘educational purpose’ as the defenders of the Georgetown display have claimed in the past.

“As a private property owner, the Georgetown Historical Society is certainly within its rights to continue to display the flag and monument, but, as long as I am in the State Senate, I will fight to stop state funding to the organization until they decide to remove them.”

The Georgetown Historical Society received $14,443 in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and was seeking $30,000 this year. That loss of funding is huge for the organization, according to Vice President Debbie Jones.

Both Ms. Jones and Jeff Plummer, the commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Delaware chapter, fear the decision by Sen. Paradee will lead to a slippery slope that will see money taken away from other groups.

“Everyone needs to support all history, because if we start picking and choosing what we like and erasing, then all monuments and all museums will be a target,” Mr. Plummer said, questioning if the Smithsonian Institution will soon be censored.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is not a hate group, he said, but is intended simply to research and celebrate the Delaware citizens who took part in America’s bloodiest conflict on behalf of the losing side.

While the website for the Delaware chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans calls for paying homage to the Confederate flag and “the Cause for which it stands,” Mr. Plummer said he sees claims that members of the group are racist as ridiculous. Asked about the website, Mr. Plummer reiterated the monument is intended to honor Delawareans who fought in the war and urged Americans to support all history regardless of how ugly it may be.

The flag of the United States flew over slave ships for decades prior to the Civil War, he said, noting a black man who fought for the Confederacy is commemorated on the Georgetown monument.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican, said claims the monument and flag are offensive miss the point.

“I’ve talked to a lot of African Americans in Delaware and they realize that it is a monument recognizing the people that fought. It’s not to glorify the Confederacy,” he said.

“It recognizes the people that fought, that were Delawareans … that fought in this horrible, horrible war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor for so many years. And after the war, they became Americans again.”

The War Between the States
While Delaware remained in the Union during the Civil War, it was a slave state, and Mr. Plummer estimated about 2,000 residents fought for the Confederacy.

“We think they should be remembered for their sacrifice, and that’s it,” Mr. Plummer, a descendant of a Confederate soldier, said. “Just strictly a historical organization. It’s not political.”

But for many, the Confederate flag is inherently political.

Local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People could not be reached for comment, but the national group says Confederate symbols “glorify treason and a hateful history of white supremacy and black subjugation.”

The flag is invariably tied to the Civil War, a conflict that even today, more than 150 years later, shapes the United States.

Over a period of five months in 1860 and 1861, 11 southern states succeeded from the Union, forming their own government largely in reaction to the election of the anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln as president. War raged for four years, and when the dust settled, the Confederacy was defeated, slavery was ended and more than 600,000 Americans were dead.

While the former slave states were reincorporated back into the Union, the ideals of the Confederacy remained strong in much of the South. Reconstruction saw the development of the “Lost Cause,” which painted the North as the aggressor in a war that was about states’ rights, not slavery.

The controversy over Confederate monuments has re-entered the national consciousness in recent years, peaking with a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in protest of the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In 2017, the Southern Poverty Legal Center said 114 Confederate symbols had been taken down since a 2015 shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and 1,747 remained standing.

A December poll of residents of the 11 states that made up the Confederacy reported 42 percent supported keeping monuments honoring Confederate soldiers, while just 5 percent backed removing them. Thirty percent said they are in favor of keeping statues recognizing leaders who supported racial segregation, with 13 percent saying they should be taken down.

President Donald Trump has fiercely opposed getting rid of Confederate monuments and flags, and some states have passed laws preventing their removal.

Erasing history?
Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said he supports withholding state funding unless the monument and flag are moved off the Georgetown Historical Society’s property.

But Ms. Jones said the nonprofit’s board voted about three weeks to keep the two, even though it means losing a key portion of the society’s funding.

“It is a shame that it has come to this because I think that we have always been open. We have had members of every color and almost every religion,” she said.

To the two lawmakers who represent the area, the most egregious part is how the change was made.

Sen. Paradee admitted he did not talk to Sen. Pettyjohn or Rep. Ruth Briggs King, a fellow Georgetown Republican, ahead of time but argued he had no obligation to do so.

“You’re not able to fulfill every request in full, so it’s just impossible to even know where each request is coming from or to have the time for every change that you recommend,” he said in an interview. “There’s just literally not time to try to figure out where each entity is located and then figure out who the legislator is and then go to that person.”

He pushed back against claims the change was made surreptitiously, saying he provided the recommendation two weeks before June 30, the final regularly scheduled day of the 2019 legislative session and the day the grant-in-aid bill was completed.

“I did my job and I followed the normal protocol,” Sen. Paradee said. “Everything that I did was transparent. There was nothing done last minute or sneaky.”

But to Sen. Pettyjohn and Rep. Briggs King, Sen. Paradee greatly overstepped his bounds.

“The way it was done was punitive and hurtful,” Rep. Briggs King said.

To her, the Confederate symbols on the society’s property — which she noted cannot be seen from the road — do not have to represent racism.

“I think it’s a perspective,” she said. “When you look at something, how do you view it? Do you see heritage, or do you see hate?”

Both Georgetown Republicans said Sen. Paradee should have reached out to them and the society ahead of time to help find ways to mitigate the loss of funding or to reach a compromise.

While Rep. Briggs King sits on the Joint Finance Committee, she did not raise the issue during the committee’s June 30 hearing. Asked why she stayed silent, Rep. Briggs King said she attempted to bring it up earlier in the day behind closed doors but did not get a satisfactory answer and determined the removal was a “fait accompli.”

She cast her vote in support of the bill despite that because of the many worthy nonprofits that are allocated money in the legislation, she said.

Ms. Jones said the society was blindsided by the news. The group does not pay for the upkeep of the monument or flag and only allows the Confederate symbols because they represent a crucial piece of American history, she said.

For his part, Sen. Paradee said he sees the controversy as overblown, characterizing most of the feedback he has received as positive.

It’s just a “tiny percentage who have a crazy fascination with wanting to celebrate the failed Confederacy and what they stood for, which was white supremacy and the continuation of slavery in our country,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com.

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