City Councilman does not regret actions

by LOREN WILLIS/ Staff Writer

City Councilman Arthur Dowdell caused a stir last Thursday when he removed several Confederate flags from graves at Pine Hill Cemetery. The flags had been placed by members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in honor of Confederate Memorial Day, which was Monday and is a state holiday in Alabama.

Dowdell said he decided to pick up the flags after hearing several complaints from people offended by the flags in the cemetery. Dowdell was also offended by the flags, and said he does not regret his actions.

Mary Norman, a local historian, was present when Dowdell removed the flag from her great-grandfather’s grave. She has been a member of the Admiral Semmes Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy for 30 years and is in the process of organizing a new chapter in Auburn called the Auburn Guard.

Norman was at the cemetery checking inventory for a history of the cemetery Auburn Heritage Association is doing, she said. Norman has 50 family members buried in the cemetery. The tradition continues from her fourth great-grandfather, born in 1790, to her mother.

“I was shocked,” Norman said. “It surprised me very much. I didn’t know exactly how to respond.”

Norman said she was standing in between her mother’s and her grandmother’s graves when Dowdell was removing the flags.

Dowdell said his biggest concern was that the flags were placed in a public cemetery which taxpayers, black and white, are paying for.

In a statement released on Friday, Mayor Bill Hamm said he does not condone Dowdell’s actions, and that they in no way reflect the views of the City of Auburn.

“The flags were placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy on private graves to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers for Confederate Memorial Day, which is an official state holiday,” Hamm said in the statement. “Their removal was not an action taken by the City of Auburn. The sanctity of the final resting place of one’s family or forefathers is certainly one of the most intensely private and sacred of things in our society.”

As a result of his actions, Dowdell said he has received hundreds of threats from all over the country, and that the FBI has gotten involved.

Norman said she would like for Dowdell to apologize to her, but she has not spoken with anyone about pressing charges on the councilman’s actions.

Auburn City Manager Charles Duggan Jr. said he will be speaking with the public safety director, as well as the police chief, later this week to ensure safety of the council chambers at Monday night’s meeting.

© 2009 The Auburn Plainsman 

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