My words to Mobile’s city council last week.
It is very important to note ahead of time that they were met with complete silence.
Ben George-commander 408
May 15, 2007
Good Morning. I am Ben George commander of the Lee-Moses-Dixon Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Mobile. I’d like to quote from a recent Mobile Register article entitled ‘Mayor spreads the love,’ written just after the city elections.
Our new mayor is the author of Mobile’s "Love Your Neighbor campaign." This is defined as "a program that encourages the community to treat one another in a positive manner-a communitywide effort that demonstrates how much better we can be by working together in both our likenesses and our differences." Mayor Jones says South Alabama "has many residents from varying racial, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds." Mobile is home to more than 60 nationalities. His Honor, Mayor Jones is "encouraging all Mobilians to embrace this campaign and celebrate our city’s increasing diversity".
We applaud this effort and firmly believe it has made our city different from others in the state and region in the area of intra-community relations.
In the same article Rabbi Donald Kundstadt of the Springhill Avenue Temple is quoted as saying; "I think the key is the follow-up, that it not be seen as a catch phrase and not as a trite suggestion, and that it is internalized and seen as a way to bring the community together." He went on to say he thought "the important thing is that this not be trivialized."
Mayor Jones went on in the article to say that ‘Everyone has got to be involved in the growth and development of this community."
I am here to see if there is any truth behind the policy today.
In the Battle House, on opposing arches for 99 years there was on the north side in the plaster a U.S. Flag-on the south side a Confederate Flag. Before the transfer of the Battle House to RSA, I was told by the former mayor in an interview on tape that there would be a faithful restoration. I was later promised by him and by someone still sitting on this council who your rules do not permit me to name (President Reggie Copeland) that there would be a clause in the transfer contract mandating restoration. This promise was not kept. At the VIP reception then councilman Nodine received a promise from Mr. Blount the RSA representative, that restoration would occur and that included the Confederate flag. Later these historical artifacts were chiseled out of the plaster into dust with an air hammer and not replaced. Now our newspaper is trying, along with others to sweep this under the rug. This act is very similar to what the Taliban did in Afghanistan when they demolished the giant Buddhas on the mountain. An act most Americans thought so barbaric it could never happen here. A spokesman for the Alabama Historical Commission told me there are 3 levels of saving a structure-restoration, renovation, and remodeling, and that this should be classified as the lowest-remodeling. A million dollar grant to restore the interior of the structure is apparently being forfeited so officials at the RSA can simply put have their way with Mobile’s living room. Since the interior of the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is possible that laws were broken.
Five minutes will not permit me to be more detailed.
I am here to tell you that a community of your neighbors is wounded by what has happened. We maintain that trust was broken, promises were broken, rules were broken, and possibly laws were broken.
I watched as hymns were sung in the ‘Love Your Neighbor’ celebration at the Saenger. We smiled, sang, and danced. We made a decision to respect each other in our community. If there is any substance to these words, I am asking the mayor to appoint a committee to look into this. Do not let me walk away from this podium without something besides silence or mere words.
A city’s history is part of its soul. When acts such as this occur and go unanswered, it keeps our city’s soul from ever healing. It will also keep our city from ever growing.
If you let me leave here today without a promise for a committee to look into the facts, please stop using words such as tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism, and phrases like ‘Love Your Neighbor.’ Or at least when you do, remember the Battle House Lobby and your silence at this moment.