Confederate flag won’t fly in Oakwood Cemetery – for now

By Tori Brock
Staff Reporter
The Huntsville Item
Wed Apr 06, 2011

HUNTSVILLE — The Huntsville City Council decided Tuesday not to approve the placement of a Confederate flag in Oakwood Cemetery until more input from citizens could be gathered.

The item was placed on the agenda by the Captain James Gillaspie Camp No. 226 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Jerry McGinty spoke with council members, explaining that the flagpole would be placed next to the marker that honors the Confederate veterans by name who are buried at Oakwood. The plaque is located near Sam Houston’s gravesite.

“We were going to do it all. We were going to buy the pole, install it, maintain it and everything else,” McGinty said Wednesday. “I had already talked to (council members) and I felt like they were on the fence. The remarks that one of them made – they’re uneducated on the issue of the war between the states. I don’t want to get into an argument with anybody about it. They’re going to look at it one way – I’m going to look at it another way.”

Council members Lydia Montgomery and Jack Wagamon spoke out against the placement of the flagpole during Tuesday’s meeting. On Wednesday, Wagamon elaborated on his statements and told The Huntsville Item that he would like to see some input brought to the council by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“The 400,000 Americans that died in the war is a tragedy but it pales in comparison to the millions of Africans who died and suffered in the slave trade,” Wagamon said. “(The Sons of Confederate Veterans) don’t need a Confederate battle flag to honor their dead. This city belongs to everybody.”

McGinty said the flag the group wanted to install is the first national flag of the Confederacy, not the iconic battle flag. He said he wishes more people would research the Civil War before forming an opinion.

“People are not educated on that issue,” McGinty said. “They want the issue to be slavery, just like they read in the history books. It was over economics. Money – that the South was richer than the North. They did not want us to be separate.”

McGinty said the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not a racist group, but rather a historical one. The group is also actively seeking the graves of black Confederate veterans in order to honor them.

“We’ve got a monument there put up two years ago (in Gillaspie Park),” he said. “We mark unmarked graves. We wanted to honor our troops.”

Montgomery asked if there was another way to honor the war dead, such as the plaque that is already in the cemetery.

“In the end, we were united by one flag and that’s the flag I think should fly in the cemetery,” she said. “(The Confederate flag) can bring the appearance and assumption of offense to some in our community.”

Montgomery also had concerns that if more than one flag is allowed to fly in Oakwood Cemetery, then the precedent is set for any flag to be flown there.

Wagamon said he was using restraint when speaking on the issue during Tuesday’s meeting. He recognized the great number of people in Walker County whose ancestors were Confederate war veterans.

“But we have a lot of great-great-grandchildren of slaves buried in that cemetery,” he said. “If those were my ancestors and I had to walk out there and look at a flag that fought to keep my ancestors in chains … I think it’s bad. I think it’s divisive.”

McGinty said while his group still wants to fly the flag at Oakwood Cemetery, there is a back-up plan. Gillaspie Park sits across from the Cemetery and features a large monument to Confederate war veterans and placing the flagpole there is plan B.

The item was referred back to the Oakwood Cemetery board for more feedback from the community. Mayor J. Turner and council member Tom Cole excused themselves from the discussion citing conflicts of interest.

© 2011 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

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