Matt Bittle, Delaware State News, July 27, 2019
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.
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.
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.
The War Between the States 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.”
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.
But for many, the Confederate flag is inherently political.
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.
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.
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.