- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

WEST POINT, Va. — The stigma attached to the Confederate flag is extending beyond state and national stages and seeping into the small Virginia and Maryland towns that embody Southern heritage.
In rural communities once home to Rebel soldiers, present-day officials are feeling outside pressure to remove the battle flag from public view and bowing to it.
But in the town of West Point, residents are fighting back, and they turned out at a meeting last night in hopes of convincing the Town Council to reverse a recent ban on Confederate flags in the public cemetery.
"Let's don't ever get to the point in this nation where we don't honor our veterans," said retired Army Brig. Gen. Hank Morris.
Prior to Memorial Day, Town Manager Anthony Romanello ordered a local woman — a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy — to remove flags from Sunny Slope Cemetery, where 34 Confederate soldiers are buried.
Mr. Romanello, a New York native, does not want to upset any mourners who might take offense in this town of 2,938.
In a similar case, a U.S. District Court judge in January ruled that the Confederate flag can fly at a Civil War cemetery in St. Mary's County, Md.
Judge William M. Nickerson wrote that the government's "continual reference to the Confederate flag as a symbol of racial intolerance and divisiveness clearly demonstrates that defendants are choosing, and advancing, the viewpoint of those offended by the flag over the viewpoint of those proud of the flag."
The Confederate flag, a revered symbol of heritage to some and a symbol of hate to others, has become political dynamite in recent years.
After a months-long boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the South Carolina General Assembly removed the flag from above the Statehouse in July.
But the NAACP has continued the boycott, upset because the legislature voted to move the flag to a place of honor at a Confederate monument on Statehouse grounds.
The Baltimore-based NAACP has said it opposes Confederate displays only on public property, not by private citizens.
Virginia the home of Robert E. Lee and the heart of the Confederacy, whose capital was in Richmond has dealt several blows to those who take pride in their Southern roots.
Earlier this year, Gov. James S. Gilmore III changed his annual proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month to Civil War History Month in an effort to find middle ground between civil rights and heritage groups.
The state also has refused to issue Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates because they would feature the Confederate flag as part of the organization's logo. The plates are now available in Maryland, but only after much wrangling.
Edward Smith, a Civil War scholar and professor at American University, said he sees no anti-flag trend as he travels through small Southern towns. But he said more Northerners are moving south — and earning seats on school boards and councils.
"They're not natives to the state. … They get upset by the flag for any number of reasons," Mr. Smith said.
In Craig County, Va., a judge this year denied some residents of New Castle when they tried to fly Confederate flags at the courthouse next to a 90-year-old Confederate statue on Memorial Day.
Judge Duncan M. Byrd Jr. said displaying the flags was an "inappropriate use of county property."
And two years ago in Windsor, Va., the town manager chose not to have his southeastern hamlet participate in the dedication of its first historic marker because the organizer planned to fly a Confederate flag.
"They're going by knee-jerk reaction. … Politicians are not always the most courageous people," said Michael Rybikowsky, a Maryland member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Mr. Rybikowsky is annoyed that many local officials didn't show up for the annual Flag Day celebration at the Waldorf Elks Lodge, where a Confederate flag is raised.
The Charles County branch of the NAACP had urged them not to attend this year.
Mr. Romanello did not return a call yesterday, but he recently told the local newspaper, the Tidewater Review, that he wanted to "be sensitive to everyone" who wanted to visit the cemetery. He said he did not want to "keep people from honoring the dead."
Most people in town seem to have an opinion on the issue.
One librarian said all the attention is "absurd."
"I don't understand who would be so against this sort of thing," said Alice Call.
"This town is very loyal to the Confederate flag, but I think it's very prejudiced to have it," said 12-year-old Austin Johnson, whose black classmates are offended by the flag. "I'm kind of doing warfare with my dad because he supports it."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide