Confederate flag over courthouse sparks some disagreement
By TYLER JETT, Chattanooga Times Free Press
SUMMERVILLE, GA (AP) - One hundred and fifty years after the final drops of soldiers' blood sealed the Civil War, the South's battle flag has returned to the grounds of Chattooga County's government.
The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised the flag on the courthouse lawn at the beginning of April, Georgia's official month to honor soldiers who fought on that side of the Civil War. Flying next to a monument for Confederate soldiers, it will wave until the end of the month, when the Sons replace it with the Bonnie Blue Flag, another Confederate emblem.
Stan Hammond, commander of the local chapter, said the group did this because it wants everyone in town to remember the South's side in the Civil War.
"History is written by the victors in about any war you see," he said. "(The flag and monument) commemorate them. They'll never be forgotten."
Jim Day, a local historian and former high school history teacher who wrote four studies on Civil War soldiers from the area, said Chattooga County's two representatives voted against seceding when the state leaders debated the issue. Georgia seceded anyway, and between 900 and 1,100 people from Chattooga County served the Confederacy in the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee.
Last May, with Commissioner Jason Winters' approval, the Sons planted a 7-foot-tall granite monument on county-owned property. Winters said the marker preserves the history of the war and promotes tourism. After the Civil War, Confederate veterans voted to make the battle flag their recognized symbol.
Summerville's mayor and police chief, the first blacks in the city's history to serve in their positions, do not support the flag. Mayor Harry Harvey said it should fly on private property; it doesn't belong at the courthouse.
"There is a better location as far as that is concerned," he said. "I do think there are, of course, places for heritage and those type of things. But at the same time, we need to be sensitive to other people."
Harvey, 65, was an educator in Chattooga County for 30 years before running for office. He said he has experienced racism, though he did not want to discuss his personal life. He did not know the flag would fly at the courthouse until he saw it, he said.
Police Chief Stan Mosley, 49, said he is friends with members of the Sons and respects their desire to commemorate their ancestors. But his family members have been victims of racism.
"I respect my elders and my ancestors," he said. "I won't sit and say I condone it."
Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the battle flag is a fine symbol for reflecting on the country's history. But it should be in a museum. He said the flag is antithetical to the purpose of a courthouse.
"The Confederate battle flag represents lawlessness," he said. "It represents a time or a period when you could be maimed, killed or lynched with impunity. It strikes within the heart of many African-Americans similar fears as the Nazi swastika strikes in the hearts of anyone who knows anything about the Jewish Holocaust."
Winters understands the monument could upset people. But in the last year, he said, he hasn't heard any complaints. If people protested, he would consider moving it.
That issue played out in nearby Ringgold, Ga. In 2004, a battle flag flew next to a city marker outside the Ringgold Depot. But city officials removed it a year later after residents and members of the NAACP complained at a council meeting.
The Sons filed a lawsuit against Ringgold in 2008, demanding the city fly the battle flag again. After six years of pretrial motions, though, the Sons dropped the lawsuit. Their lawyer, Martin O'Toole, said the group didn't want to pay for an actual trial.
The Georgia Legislature in 2009 designated April as Confederate Heritage and History Month. Local state Reps. Jay Neal, Martin Scott and Tom Weldon voted for the designation. State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, did not vote on the final version, though he supported an early draft of the bill.
In Chattooga County, the Sons began raising money for the $10,000 monument four years ago. The Tillotson-Menlo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to "support, promote, improve and maintain" education and culture in Chattooga County, promised to give them a $5,000 grant if the Sons could say where the monument would stand.
Steve Weaver, the second lieutenant of the local Sons chapter, said Winters promised in March 2013 that the group could put its monument on the courthouse lawn. They also planted a flagstaff, which will fly a selection of Confederate flags throughout the year.
In addition to the battle flag and the Bonnie Blue, the Sons will fly the First National Confederate Flag, the Second National Confederate Flag, the Third National Confederate Flag and the Georgia state flag of 1860.
Weaver, whose great-great-great-grandfather and -uncle were privates in the Georgia infantry, said the monument is there to preserve history, not provoke violence. Stan Hammond, commander of the local chapter, echoed Weaver.
"At this day and time, they want to do away with the Confederate," he said, referring to those who disapprove of the South's cause during the Civil War. "He was an American soldier just like everybody else."
Of those who fought for the South, an inscription on the monument reads, "Exposure to the elements, long grueling marches, and exhausting battles far from the comforts of home would not keep them from fighting for what they believed to be right. For this cause, many of them paid the ultimate price. The efforts of these men to preserve freedom and liberty must not be forgotten."
Winters said he didn't know what the specific language on the monument would say before the Sons planted it, and he hasn't thought about it much since. Johnson, the Georgia NAACP president, had a stronger reaction.