NAACP Branch Seeks Removal of Del. Confederate Monument, Lawmakers React

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NAACP Branch Seeks Removal of Del. Confederate Monument, Lawmakers React

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A lower Delaware NAACP branch wants officials to cut off state funding for the Georgetown Historical Society to force the removal of a Confederate monument on its


The Lower Sussex County NAACP is asking state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Bruth Briggs King, who represent Georgetown in the Delaware General Assembly to call on the Controller General's Office to withhold $11,500 in grant-in-aid funding for the Georgetown Historical Society until it takes down the Confederate monument on the museum property.

In a statement, Lower Sussex NAACP President Louise Henry said, "We certainly believe in a private organization’s constitutional right to free speech – even speech that serves to demean and taunt persons of color, many of whom are descendants of the very slaves the Confederacy fought against the United States to keep. But we were shocked and dismayed to learn that taxpayer dollars are in subsidizing that message and that must end immediately."

The Georgetown Historical Society says none of the grant-in-aid money it gets goes toward that monument, and the GHS allowed it because it honors Delawareans. Delaware Grays Commander Jeff Plummer confirmed his group, which is responsible for the monument, is entirely privately funded and says it's not fair to take funds from the historical society because of the monument.

"I think you're going to go down an awfully slippery slope when you say you can go down private property and take monuments or what you dislike off them because it won't end here," he says. "Nobody wins."

Plummer says the monument honors all Delawareans who served or supported the Confederacy--including some people of color. He says they fly the Confederate flag at the monument for historical accuracy. 

"It's a soldiers' flag,  it's not a national flag. It is the flag the soldiers fought under," he says. "So we think it's appropriate to be at the monument because that's what they would've died and bled under."

Plummer says he believes keeping the monument allows history to be fully told.

"It's about preserving history for future generations. I don't believe we can sanitize history," he says. "I think we need to let someone see the entire picture. You don't give someone a book and take pages out that you disagree with or are offended by. You let someone read the book and form their own opinion."

Henry says she wishes the monument told both sides of the Civil War.

"I like history. But tell the whole history. Don't leave the part out that's ugly," she says. "If you're going to tell history, you have to tell the ugly part. What did your parents do to my parents?"

Henry says she wants to sit down with Plummer and talk about the flag's meaning.

"It's not enough for us to move the flag or even cut the funding, but we need to understand each other," she says. "We need to know why is it such a proud thing about this confederate flag and they need to know why we hate it so much."

Plummer says he's willing to have the conversation with Henry and others.

"I think dialogue is the answer because a lot of people have misconceptions. If they see someone with a Confederate flag shirt or hat its probably better to ask them why they're wearing it instead of assuming its negative," he says. "Because once you explain why you have it on, that you're honoring your family, most people are fine with that, because everyone likes to honor their family."

Both of Georgetown's elected state lawmakers--Rep. Ruth Briggs King and Sen. Brian Pettyjohn--oppose cutting the Georgetown Historical Society's grant-in-aid funding.

"Somebody brought up to me yesterday: What if somebody has a Confederate flag in their home and they receive government assistance [....] is the government going to demand they take their flag down? Where does that line stop?" 

"If we prohibit the Georgetown Historical Society from educating the public on the events that shaped our country and state then what message are we sending as Americans?" Briggs King said in a statement. "We cannot – and should not – rewrite history, nor can we deny the past.  Let us learn from the mistakes of the past, and address concerns and issues in a deliberate process."

Communities around the country have removed Confederate monuments under pressure from those who say they honor a regime that enslaved African Americans. But the pace has quickened since violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

When asked where he stands on this issue, Gov. John Carney said he does not believe taxpayer money should be used to publicly display the Confederate flag.

"I agree with President Obama that the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, not flying over one," Carney said in a statement. "Georgetown Historical Society is an important organization that helps preserve our history and supports events such as Return Day, one of Delaware's most important political traditions. But there's a difference between displaying a flag in a museum for historical purposes, and displaying the flag publicly because you approve the message it sends. The Confederate flag is a symbol of this country's history with racism and injustice. Taxpayer money should not support public display of the flag."

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware's lone member of Congress, shares the same view as Carney.

"Private organizations have every right to display the statues they choose," Blunt-Rochester said in a statement. "Taxpayer dollars, however, should not be spent supporting organizations perpetuating messages of violence, hatred, and bigotry. The Confederacy is a part of our history, but it's one we should learn from, not celebrate, and it's my hope that elected leaders across Delaware and the United States will unite behind a message that embodies the highest ideals of our state and country. Our history must be recognized, but that does not mean that our darkest moments should be romanticized in our present or our future."

Delaware senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons offered similar thoughts as well. 

"My sister and I grew up in Danville, Va. - the last capital of the Confederacy - but we never honored the Confederate flag in our home," said Carper in a statement. "The way African Americans were discriminated against then was painful to watch, and I'm sure it was even more painful for them to endure. For many, the Confederate flag is a symbol of bigotry, and bigotry certainly shouldn't be supported with public money."

"We can't ignore the ways in which Confederate flags and symbols have been used to convey divisive messages of bigotry in our society," Coons said in a statement. "Private organizations have every right to display flags and monuments of their choosing, but they shouldn't expect taxpayer funds to support them."