Published: May 5, 2009
Auburn City Councilman Arthur L. Dowdell apologized Tuesday night for removing four Confederate battle flags from Pine Hill Cemetery on April 23.
Dowdell, the representative for Ward 1, pointed his apology toward members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans attending the council’s regular meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, the council passed a resolution urging Dowdell “to make a public apology to the citizens of Auburn.” With the resolution, the city council also condemned Dowdell’s actions as “inappropriate and beneath the office of a city councilman.”
Dowdell opposed the resolution since he hadn’t seen it prior to the meeting, but agreed to voice his opinion to the council and citizens later in the meeting.
During the citizens comments portion of the meeting, Dowdell and the rest of the council listened to 25 citizens express their opinions on Dowdell and the Confederate flag for nearly two hours. After 12 people had spoken, Ward 8 Councilman Bob Norman asked to suspend the rest of citizens communications in order for the council to proceed with the remainder of the agenda. The remaining business took all of five minutes and citizens were speaking again.
The majority of citizen speakers were from outside Auburn. About half supported Dowdell and his actions, agreeing use of the flag was offensive.
“I don’t care if it was one flag or 100 flags, if it don’t say United States of America, to me, it’s wrong,” said the Rev. Larry Taylor, who identified himself as Dowdell’s brother.
Others, including several members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, disagreed, and said they considered the flag removal a violation of civil rights.
“You may not agree with them, but that doesn’t give you the right to violate freedom of speech,” said Auburn resident Benjamin Bacon.
Billy Bearden said he traveled 90 miles from Mt. Zion, Ga., because he was so motivated by the issue. Bearden, dressed in a full Confederate uniform, carrying a small Confederate battle flag, marched up and down the sidewalk in front of city hall for a couple of hours before the meeting.
“I’m here to speak for those who can’t,” he said, referring to the Confederate soldiers.
Bearden told the council he considered Dowdell’s actions to be the same as someone knocking over his father’s headstone in Arlington National Cemetery and spitting on it.
Dowdell defended his actions in his address. Since neither the city manager nor the mayor were able to tell him why the flags were in Pine Hill, Dowdell said he thought they were there for a KKK rally. Had he known they were there for the Confederate Memorial Day ceremony, he said he would have walked away.
He apologized to both Confederate groups. He said it was not his intention to hurt them. Dowdell said his actions were the result of “miscommunication” and “ignorance.” “I’m sorry this happened,” he said. “I hope we can get passed it.”
During the meeting, the mayor and Norman each read prepared statements expressing their disapproval of their fellow councilman’s action.
Ward 5 Councilman Robin Kelley got in the last word of the evening when he expressed his disappointment in Dowdell for not asking him about the flags. Pine Hill is in Kelley’s ward.
“I was never contacted,” Kelley said. “If you called me, I would have told you (what they were for.)
“It’s desecration what you did. End of discussion.”
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