Alabama Councilman Destroys Rebel Flags

Published April 27, 2009

A Black Alabama councilman, decrying the Bars and Stars as a racist throwback to a shameful period in U.S. history, yanked up several Confederate flags that had been placed on the graves of Civil War soldiers.

Auburn City Councilman Arthur Dowdell is the target of outrage by such folks as Mary Norman, president of the Auburn Heritage Association, for his recent actions at the Pine Hill Cemetery.

"He pulled up the flag, snapped it in two and put it in his car," said Norman, describing the way Dowdell vanquished the symbol on her great-grandfather’s grave. Dowdell, who has been a member of the Council for the past 14 years, said he didn’t mean to break the flag, but it snapped when he pulled it from the ground. Still, he said, "I should have broken them all. They are offensive to me. They represent racism and the Ku Klux Klan."

He said he was compelled to pull up that flag and several others when he picked up his daughter from her school near the cemetery in downtown Auburn and heard parents complaining about the flags that peppered many of the burial plots. He said he drove to the cemetery and saw that it was decorated "like a Klan rally or a skinhead rally. … It's intimidating to Black folks, and it's intimidating to me as a civil rights leader," he said, noting that he pulled up four flags and left.

But Norman, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said the flags have nothing to do with racism or hatred.

Sunday is the official day for Confederate Memorial Day and Monday is the state holiday. The flags mark the graves of 75 Confederate soldiers, and there is also a monument for 98 unknown Rebel soldiers.

"This has been a tradition in Auburn for over 100 years," Norman said.

Bill Ham Jr., Auburn’s mayor, agreed with Norman, saying there has never been a problem in the past.

"This was a shocker," he said. But Dowdell is now pressing for an ordinance allowing the flags for 24 hours on Confederate Memorial Day only. "We don't have anything like those flags flying four days before Martin Luther King Day. We celebrate it on that day," he said.

Written by BET.com Staff

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