Confederate Flag at Dodge Courthouse Stirs Controversy

A Confederate battle flag flies Wednesday next to a memorial to Confederate war dead near the Dodge County Courthouse, in the background, in Eastman. (Photo: Grant Blankenship / The Telegraph A)

As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a decision by Dodge County commissioners this week to fly the Confederate battle flag 365 days a year at the county courthouse has sparked more controversy and attention to a years-long debate.

“We've been battling this for some time, trying to resolve it without going outside the county,” said John Battle, president of the Dodge County branch of the NAACP, which he said has repeatedly asked the county to remove the flag.

“We don't have any heartburn about the Confederate flag itself, but we have heartburn because it's up there on the public property,” he said.

The Confederate battle flag, seen by some as representative of slavery, and by others as a part of our nation's Southern heritage, has been on the courthouse grounds for years.

The flag is positioned in front of a series of war memorial statues on the side of the courthouse property.

The commission voted unanimously in 2002 to allow the Confederate flag to be flown one day annually, but Battle said it has been flown daily for years.

After years of going back and forth with the commission, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hired a lawyer, who sent a letter to the Dodge County Commission last week requesting that they remove the Confederate battle flag from public display at the courthouse.

“It's not representative of the entire population of Dodge County, and if they were doing what they said they would do when they passed the resolution, I don't think the NAACP would have an issue with it,” said Maurice King, the attorney representing the NAACP chapter, when reached by phone Wednesday.

Battle agreed.

“We can take it that one day,” he said. “It's not supposed to fly at all.”

But days after King sent the letter to the board of commissioners, they officially voted Monday to allow the Confederate flag to be flown yearlong on the courthouse grounds.

Battle said the decision was like a slap in the face.

Only one commissioner, Archie Dupree, voted against the decision, which was made after a brief closed session.

“I thought it'd be inappropriate to fly it and it would offend people,”
Dupree said. “That's why I voted that way.”

Dupree declined to comment further, and efforts to reach the other commissioners for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Not everyone sees the flag as a big deal.

Lynette Reed, a hairdresser of 44 years who runs the Curl Up & Dye beauty shop in Eastman, said the flag has long flown at the courthouse, and she doesn't see why people are making a fuss about it now.

“I don’t know,” she said. “All of a sudden, they raise a ruckus. I don't see a problem with it. You couldn't make (the NAACP) happy if you wanted to.”

Reed said there was some chatter about the issue in her shop Wednesday, but most people support the flag continuing to fly, although she admitted that “some blacks don't like it.”

Teena Scarborough, one of Reed's customers who is retired from Robins Air Force Base, said commissioners did the right thing by voting to keep the flag flying.

She said it represents history.

“There were blacks fighting in the Civil War as well as whites,” Scarborough said. “I don't see anything wrong with it, myself.”

Battle said that the NAACP would prefer not to have to take this issue to court, but he said he plans to sit down with commissioners again next week.

“We would like it to be taken down because of the hatred that flag represented against minorities,” he said, noting that not only black residents are offended by the flag being flown.

“We should be well beyond this point in life. This is 2011,” he said. “These people are supposed to be the leaders of the county going forward, not backward.”

Staff writer Andy M. Drury contributed to this report.

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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