Lake Wales moves toward removal of Confederate flag reference

By Kara Phelps
News Chief staff
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

LAKE WALES – After much debate, the Lake Wales City Commission voted 3-2 to consider taking away part of a cemetery ordinance that mentions Confederate flags on the graves of Confederate veterans.

Commissioners decided Tuesday to continue the process of removing the phrasing in the ordinance that deals with Confederate flags. They will take a final vote on the issue at the March 16 meeting.

Commissioner John Paul Rogers and Mayor Jack Van Sickle said no Confederate veterans are buried in the city-owned Lake Wales and Willow Lawn cemeteries.

"As it stands, the language we have is moot and inflammatory," said City Manager Judy Delmar. She said the Cemetery Ordinance Committee placed the language in the ordinance a few months ago after a plot owner expressed a desire to put a Confederate flag on her son’s grave.

At the meeting, three people expressed their support of removing the reference to Confederate flags from the ordinance, and one spoke in favor of keeping it.

"This is insulting to me and my family," said David Smith, president of the Lake Wales chapter of the NAACP. "This is insulting to have a Confederate flag that tried to keep my race in slavery."

Not everyone agreed.

"Veterans don’t have a choice in the war they fight," Ed Bowlin said. "Dishonoring Confederate veterans who gave their life is not going to correct the past evil of slavery."

Rev. J.J. Pierce said he thought the Confederate flag "represents something much more personal than slavery." He said he associates it with the more recent racial violence of lynchings and the activity of the Ku Klux Klan as well as slavery.

Rogers, whose background as the former grand dragon of a KKK extension called the United Klans of Florida has been widely publicized, said removing the language was a "triviality" that would not have an effect at either cemetery.

"It doesn’t bother me to take it off the books because federal and state law upholds it," he said.

Still, Rogers voted with Van Sickle to keep the language as it stands. Commissioners Terrye Howell, Jonathan Thornhill and Alex Wheeler voted to remove it.

Van Sickle said that although no Confederate veterans are buried in either cemetery, locals may want to transfer the remains of a Confederate veteran in their family to a cemetery in Lake Wales.

"They deserve the same rights as any veterans from any other war," Van Sickle said. He cited federal laws that recognize Confederate veterans as U.S. military veterans and state law that gives the Confederate flag the same status as the American flag.

City attorney Chuck Galloway said taking out a reference to Confederate flags wouldn’t prohibit their display.

Legally, he said removing the language "doesn’t make a great deal of difference."

Howell said she thought the language should not have made it into the ordinance, and said she wanted to see it removed.

"We’re going to make some history, in my opinion, in Lake Wales, by doing right by all people," she said.

Thornhill said he thought "there’s some reverse discrimination going on here." He said he did not have an issue with removing the reference to the Confederate flag if state and federal law supported its recognition.

"I think moving this clause is an olive branch," Wheeler said. He said he thought keeping the language would be "disuniting."

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