Alabama Pol Removes Confederate Flags, and a Firestorm Ensues

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.

“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.”