Mayor questioned about missing Confederate flag

Student asks about Confederate banner removed in ’04
By Susan McCord
Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010

With Confederate Memorial Day on the horizon, Mayor Deke Copenhaver was recently asked to restore a rebel banner at Riverwalk Augusta.

He didn’t say yes, and he didn’t exactly say no.

"I’m not sure that the mayor has the authority to put it back up," Copenhaver said. "That was before my time."

The mayor — sometimes accused of ducking controversy — said he had barely thought about the flag’s absence until Augusta State University graduate student Jon Brunk came to his office April 14.

The flags — there are actually two of them — were part of a historical display erected in 1984 by the riverwalk’s designers. Two identical sets of 12 flags, including four banners from the Civil War era, reflected the history of the city.

The same year, Georgia had proclaimed its first Confederate Memorial Day, April 26.

In 2004, then-Mayor Bob Young announced that the Confederate States banner — which shows a small Confederate battle flag on a white field — was coming down.

Two weeks later, the South Carolina NAACP, boycotting its own state for displaying the Confederate flag at the state Capitol, held its annual convention at Augusta’s Radisson Riverfront Hotel.

In 2006 — after Copenhaver took office — a Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Georgia Heritage Council that claimed Augusta had violated a state law forbidding removal of memorials to military personnel.

The issue appeared to lay dormant through Copenhaver’s first full term, until now.

"I remember as a kid it flying here," Brunk said, making a recent pitch to return the Confederate States banner to the riverwalk.

The flag was removed "without any popular referendum, without any public say-so," Brunk said in a YouTube video on slmnews.com, a secessionist website based in South Carolina.

"This portion of it here has been whitewashed," Brunk said in the video, speaking of the flag display. "It’s not historically accurate."

In a letter on slmnews.com, Brunk said he would be contacting his commissioner, Joe Bowles, and the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and "looking over the details of this lawsuit with my brother. We’re not done yet."

His brother David Brunk, a public defender, said Thursday that the video, letter and visit were "strictly a historical project." Jon Brunk had simply noticed a piece of "revisionist history" while taking his family on a "history walk," he said.

Young, now owner and president of Eagle Veterans Services industrial supply company, said that as long as the other Civil War-era flags remain at the riverwalk, "that era of history is still recognized."

"I felt at the time it was an appropriate decision, that I did the right thing, and that was the end of it," he said.

The Georgia Heritage Council, meanwhile, has portrayed him dressed as an Afghan on its website, he said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he didn’t have a good answer to the flag question. "Maybe (Jon Brunk) wanted his 15 minutes of fame," he said.

Historic Augusta Director Erick Montgomery called the flag issue "exasperating," and Lee Ann Caldwell, the director of the Center for Study of Georgia History at ASU, was shocked.

"Oh my goodness, we’re not beating that dead horse again," she said.

Lee Herron, the commander of the Brig. Gen. E. Porter Alexander Camp 158 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, chastised the Ku Klux Klan and skinhead groups for "hijacking" the flag of Confederate soldiers.

The group maintains Confederate soldiers’ graves at Magnolia Cemetery and recently raised $192,000 for restoration of the Confederate Powderworks chimney.

"It’s the soldiers’ flag; it’s a flag of honor," Herron said.

The Augusta Chronicle ©2010

On The Web:   http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/metro/2010-04-25/mayor-questioned-about-missing-confederate-flag?v=1272242926