- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

SCOTLAND, Md. — There is little to the Confederate Memorial Park right now, mostly a rough-cut field inhabited by swarms of mosquitoes.

But planted in the middle of the 3-acre plot, surrounded by several wreaths, a Confederate battle flag flies from a 40-foot pole.

Descendants of the thousands of soldiers held at a nearby Union prison camp during the Civil War plan to build a statue of a Confederate soldier and a marker with the names of those who died.

They also want to unfurl at the site the flags of the 11 states that seceded.

The Point Lookout POW Descendants Organization bought the land in May and raised the Confederate flag soon afterward.

Its location is no coincidence: The site borders a Confederate prisoners of war graveyard run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For several years, Confederate heritage organizations have fought the VA in court for the right to fly the battle flag perpetually at the graveyard.

The VA allows it just two days a year and has won several court challenges to its restrictions.

Patricia Buck, founder and president of the POW group, said building the memorial on private land will allow the descendants to fly the flag year-round next to the cemetery.

“We’re not doing this to get back at the VA,” she said. “We’re doing this solely to honor our ancestors who died there.”

She said the 1,120-member POW association had been hunting for a memorial site as early as 1992, well before the court cases.

The group bought the land with $32,000 it raised and has $5,000 of the estimated $100,000 cost of building the complete memorial it has proposed for the site.

Although the first thing that went up after the association purchased the land was the flag, Mrs. Buck said it was not meant to be offensive.

She said it’s meant to serve as a reminder of the cause for which soldiers buried nearby fought. Those who object to it “don’t know history,” she said.

But St. Mary’s County residents say flying the Confederate flag at the memorial site on a country road is divisive and a symbolic insult.

“To me, it’s racism,” said Harold Herndon, a black businessman from nearby Hollywood. “Anytime I see that, it bothers me.”

The dispute over the memorial is the latest over marking the deaths of an estimated 14,000 Confederate soldiers who perished in the squalid prison camp at the tip of southern Maryland.

Erected after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the tent camp held about 52,200 Southern prisoners until the war ended in 1865. Some who died there are buried in a mass grave marked by two obelisks and plaques engraved with 3,000 names.

Confederate groups gather there once a year and fly the battle flag to commemorate their ancestors with speeches, re-enactments and prayers.

“All of us feel it is appropriate to fly the Confederate battle flag over the graves of Confederates. That is the flag they chose to go into battle under,” said Patrick J. Griffin III, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who has been part of several lawsuits against the VA.

But the VA has deemed some of the speeches at the celebration inflammatory, including remarks last year by the Rev. Alistair Anderson, who called the Confederate cause “righteous” and “just” as he railed against modern Southerners who have been “emasculated by political correctness and Yankee propaganda.”

The VA required speakers scheduled for the gathering this year, including Mr. Griffin, to submit their speeches for review and excised some portions it deemed inappropriate.

Mr. Griffin and others argued that speakers were being censored illegally, but a federal judge allowed the VA to screen the remarks.

Many people who live near the planned memorial site say the don’t mind the flag but note that it has been stolen several times since it was first raised.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Bobbi Koontz, who works at the state park about a mile down the road. “They died fighting for that flag.”

But others are uneasy about the display.

County Commissioner Dan Raley, who runs a nearby grocery store, said he has heard from several local black leaders who are angry about the flag and upset that another county commissioner helped dedicate the site.

“I worry it is going to cause some problems,” he said. “The issue is the flag and all the bad thoughts it brings on.”

For Mr. Herndon, 65, those bad thoughts include memories of growing up in segregated North Carolina and arriving in 1960 in Southern Maryland, where schools also were divided racially.

Mr. Herndon spoke out against the flag at a recent Rotary Club meeting and found some members were outraged but others didn’t object to the memorial.

However, he said allowing the memorial to be built would just encourage other “radical” groups to put on similar displays.

“We’re not going to sit around and watch it happen,” he said.

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