A large Confederate battle flag snapping in the wind at the top of a pole in front of the county courthouse in the small rural Georgia town of Summerville must come down and “it shouldn’t have been put up there in the first place,” the city’s first black mayor told Hatewatch today.
“It certainly sheds a negative light on the city and the county,” Mayor Harry Harvey said. “We have a lot of positive things going on in the area, a lot of progress, and this distracts from it. It’s not something we want to be known for.”
With permission from the Chattooga County Commissioner, Jason Winters, the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) raised the flag at the beginning of April (Confederate History and Heritage Month in Georgia) with plans to replace it at the end of the month with a rotation of other Confederate emblems, such as the Bonnie Blue flag, according to journalist Tyler Jett.
Jett said Commissioner Winters had told him two weeks ago that he would consider removing the flag if it caused any controversy in the city of 4,600 residents, about 28 percent of whom are black.
It has done just that, yet the flag remains, just yards from the front door of the Chattooga County Courthouse.
“County governments in Georgia should not approve another permanent display of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, a civil rights attorney and president of the Georgia NAACP, said in a statement on April 13. “[SCV}'s insistence on using the Rebel Battle flag, a patently offensive symbol of hate, for display from the Courthouse and places of sovereignty such as flagpoles is a part of their effort to win a war that was lost 150 years ago.”
The flag overlooks a 7-foot tall granite monument on the courthouse lawn honoring Confederate soldiers. Stan Hammond, commander of the local SOCV chapter, told Jett that the monument and flag commemorate the fallen sons of the South. “They’ll never be forgotten,” he said.
But it is not just Summerville’s black population that wants the flag to come down, Jett said. “A ton of white people, that I’ve talked to in that town, aren’t happy with it either,” he said.
Sutton Connelly, an attorney who practices law in Summerville with his legendary grandfather Bobby Lee Cook, told Hatewatch that “people are starting to galvanize against” the battle flag.
“I do not believe that flag should be flying in front of the courthouse given the connotations it carries,” Connelly said. “We should have two flags in front of the courthouse: the Georgia State flag and the flag of the United States of America.”
Mayor Harvey, who took office in 2013, said the monument, which has been in place for about eight months, should also be removed from the front lawn of the courthouse – “one of those places where justice is supposed to be dispensed to everybody fairly.”
The mayor said he has spoken with Winters about removing, at the very least, the battle flag and the commissioner is “working hard on a resolution.”
“I don’t have a time table for when that will happen,” the mayor said. “But the commissioner wants to see the city progress, too.”
The telephone at Commissioner Winters’ office was repeatedly busy on Wednesday, and Hatewatch was not able to reach him for a comment.
When members of his congregation recently told Rev. Solomon Missouri that there was a large Confederate battle flag in front of the courthouse, the young pastor was incredulous. He could not believe that local and county officials would allow such a display on government property, not in 2015, 150 years after the Confederate surrender, not with a black man in the White House, not with Summerville’s black population pushing 30 percent and not, for the first time in the town’s history, with a black mayor and a black police chief.
“The flag must come down,” the pastor said in a letter he personally delivered to Winters’ office, according to Jett. “If this sign is part of your collective heritage, then your heritage bears the stench of oppression. If this sign evokes feelings of pride than (sic) your pride is indeed a sin."