Area residents split on flag controversy

Katie Stallcup
Staff writer

Published: April 27, 2009

After a storm of controversy over Confederate flags at the city’s oldest cemetery, Auburn residents voiced mixed opinions Monday, the state holiday celebrating Confederate Memorial Day.

Thursday, Auburn City Councilman Arthur L. Dowdell removed a handful of battle flags from Confederate soldiers’ graves at Pine Hill Cemetery. The flags had been placed there to commemorate Confederate Memorial Day, as they have been for 50 years. Far-reaching publicity and a hailstorm of comments on followed.

Auburn resident Mary Buchannon said she saw Dowdell’s point but didn’t agree with his method.

“To me, (the Confederate battle flag) is racist,” she said. “It is (a symbol of) when black men were on the front line, and they didn’t get credit for it. But the way he did it, I don’t particularly agree with it.”

Waverly resident Mattie L. Spence said she thought Dowdell’s actions were “way over the top.”

“If it was my family, I would want to be able to put any flag on their grave,” she said. “I think they have that right.”

Auburn resident Crenshaw Cook said he understood why Dowdell removed the flags.

“I think the flags shouldn’t have been out there in the first place,” Cook said. “We should let what happened in the past stay in the past.”

Rush Tanner said he wasn’t surprised that Dowdell’s actions stirred emotions.

“He should have known better,” Tanner said. “(Privately owned grave plots) are personal.”

Tanner said he understood the concern about placing the flags, but “wrong don’t make right.”

Dowdell has said the flags represent racism and offend him and others. Members of a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy have said they are not racist and that the flags were placed on the graves to honor the soldiers.

Dowdell said Monday he was still receiving threats by e-mail and phone. He said he had talked with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, both of which were looking into the threats. Dowdell said his attorney recommended he talk with those agencies before contacting the Auburn Police Division. Auburn police said Monday they had not received any reports on the incident.

The chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy that placed the flags on the graves collected them after Sunday’s service, member Beverly Webster said. A member of the Tallassee chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans placed smaller Confederate flags on the graves after those were removed, chapter member Bill Anthony said.

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