The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Alabama Pol Removes Confederate Flags, and a Firestorm Ensues

By David Holthouse on May 4, 2009 - 7:40 am, Posted in Neo-Confederate

They just keep coming, says Bishop Arthur Dowdell. The racial epithets. The vile aspersions. The death threats. They arrive via E-mail, the U.S. post and phone calls in the middle of the night. They’re shouted at him by passersby.

Bishop Arthur Dowdell“A lot of them call me the N-word. Some of them call my mother a bitch. One said they was going to urinate on my wife and children,” Dowdell told Hatewatch. “Another said I better not show up to the next City Council meeting, or I’d be a dead man.”

The trouble started on the afternoon of Thursday, April 23, when Bishop Dowdell, an elected member of the Auburn, Ala., City Council and its only black member, was picking up his daughter from Auburn Junior High School, which is located next to Pine Hill Cemetery.

According to Dowdell, he’d recently received several complaints from African-American constituents regarding Confederate battle flags being placed in the cemetery. Dowdell said he decided to see for himself and, sure enough, there were about 50 small Confederate battle flags waving in the breeze.

Dowdell wasn’t having that. “It’s offensive to me,” he later told The Opelika-Auburn News. “To me, it [the Confederate battle flag] represents the Ku Klux Klan and racism.”

He snatched up four of the flags and tossed them into his trunk.

Happening to witness his actions were two members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), who’d placed the flags earlier in the week, as they’ve done since the 1950s, in preparation for a celebration of Confederate Memorial Day, which is observed as a state holiday in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. This year it fell on April 27.

According to UDC member Mary Norman, who contacted the local media afterward, Dowdell snapped one of the flags in half. Dowdell denies doing that on purpose. “It might have snapped itself,” he told the Opelika-Auburn News. “If it did, so what? If I had my way, I would have broke them all up and stomped on them and burned them. That flag represents another country, another nation.”

Stomping on the Confederate battle flag? Them’s fighting words, Councilman.

The newspaper articles about the incident started to circulate on neo-Confederate and white supremacist online forums, along with Dowdell’s photo, E-mail address, home and office addresses and phone number.

Then the Southern Legal Resource Center, a neo-Confederate law center co-founded by white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, issued a public call for the city of Auburn to force Dowell to resign. SLRC Executive Director Roger McCredie wrote to Auburn Mayor Bill Ham, Jr., that “justice and ordinary decency would be served” by the City’s demanding Dowdell’s resignation.

Not to be outdone, the Southern heritage group Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) launched a letter-writing campaign to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and various state and local prosecutors, demanding Dowdell’s arrest on hate crime charges.

“Councilman Dowdell violates every tenet of decent human behavior.  He showed a dangerous propensity for taking the law into his own hands,” read the form letter drafted by SCV Alabama Division Commander Robert Reames. “We believe this crime was motivated by hate, and want to see justice done.”

Last week, New Jersey-based neo-Nazi radio host and notorious blowhard Hal Turner faxed a letter to the Auburn Police Department announcing that he’s “considering” bringing the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and skinheads to Auburn to protest Dowdell at the next scheduled meeting of the Auburn City Council, which is coming up fast: Tuesday, May 5.

“I don’t care who they send, I’ll be there,” Dowdell told Hatewatch. “The FBI is involved, so I hope and pray my safety will be ensured. I’ll tell you what, though. I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude. I’ve been called every name under the sun except one — a child of God.”

  • shannon

    These are gravesites of our family members, we as Americans have a right to honor them as we see fit without having flowers,flags or any other item stolen.i do not hate anyone only ask to be able to honor my great great grandfather as I see fit.

  • Danny

    Going to Alabama and asking them to change their flag is the same thing as going to any other state and saying change your flag. When i was growing up people always said be proud of who you are and what you are.So my family fought and died for the Confederate are you saying i shouldn’t be proud of them? The flag is a sign of southern pride but then people are uneasy about what southern pride is.Southern pride is the same as wearing the union flag and saying “it’s northern pride” when some one asks you why you’re wearing it. Alabama should be able to keep their flag it’s a sign of there heritage not a sign of hate. I understand where civil rights activists are coming from but, slavery has ended that flag is a memorial for the ancestors that died. I honestly wish people could just leave it alone. Would you guys walk up to a Christian and say take off your cross cause i’m not christian and i don’t think your right? That’s exactly what people are doing. BE PROUD OF WHO YOU ARE.

  • Khadian Parchment

    Call me KP. I am doing a college sociology research paper on skin heads and came across this blog, I would like to speak to different people who practice and participate in skin head activities and lifestyle. Yes I am black (Jamaican), US Army veteran 2001-2007. Email would be awesome. Thank you.

  • jim meadows

    First I’m an Ironworker and I work with some of the best black Ironworkers you could ask for on jobs. Dangerous jobs, building high rises, and bridges. We take turns saving each other’s lives on a day to day basis. They are Ironworker brothers of mine. But let me tell you something. My great great granddad and his brother fought with the Georgia 26th Infantry and made it all the way to Appomattox Court House. I’m very proud of my family. My father fought in WW2 with the 4th army 3ed armored Div, and both of my grandfathers fought in WW1 one in France and the other in Siberia. My point is; if I saw anyone black or white remove anything from any one of their grave sites, both of us are going to be mighty sore in the morning! They ALL fought for what they believed was right!
    It’s not HATE it realy is HERATIGE!!

  • Walt

    The grave plot are owned by the persons that paid for it. It is just like buying your house. If you place something on it and someone comes by and take it, that is breaking the law. If this was my ancestors grave, I would be up-set to start off with and then I would call the police to place a report for theift of property. You and you only have the right to place and remove what is on this plot due to ownership.

  • Erin

    While I certainly understand that the Bishop feels very strongly on this issue, it’s important to respect others as well. You shouldn’t mess with anything that anyone else leaves on the graves of their dead, whether you agree with it or not.

    Personally, I am a Southerner who chooses not to associate myself with the battle flag due to all of the connotations it carries. Nonetheless, if another of my relatives left a flag on one of my ancestors’ graves and I saw someone else remove it in such a way, I would be very upset. You just don’t go there.

  • Scott

    “Lori said,on May 10th, 2009 at 5:34 pm
    It’s that the flag is used by many white supremacist groups and that it is mostly revered by whites looking to a nostalgic past where they were in control.”

    Here is exactly the problem all you, white Southerner hating, liberals are overlooking. We will not be enslaved, as you think we should be, to made amends for slavery. You are not in control, as you wish to be, of our lives or rights to do what we wish to do. We are American citizens too, with every right that you have to the Bill of Rights. We have every right to be proud of our heritage and will continue to do so, no matter what you do or say. Notice I’m not an inbred, illiterate idiot. I’m just the proud great great grandson of several Confederate soldiers.