The Third Confederate Flag flies proudly on the city-owned grounds of the museum known as the last capitol of the confederacy, and that isn’t going to change any time soon, despite the way some residents feel about it, according to the Danville City Council’s attorney.
Danville’s attorney says that the flag and pole are considered a war memorial and that Virginia Law states no war memorial can be moved. In Danville’s case, he says, the flag and flag pole are part of the memorial. So says the City Council, as well, who voted to keep the flag in place no matter what the cost to the community.
Many people in Danville were hoping it would be taken inside the museum, including the director after the museum board made the request to remove it last month. “The board is disappointed with the city council’s decision, but we’ll continue to honor our history,” said Cara Burton, the director of the museum. She had previously sought permission to move the flag indoors as part of an expanded Civil War Exhibit, preparing for the 150 anniversary of the Confederacy moving to Danville. “It’s the city council’s decision to fly it. It’s been demonstrated the museum board has no control over it flying,” Burton said.
Thursday night, the City Council and dozens of people from the community debated for nearly two hours. “We’re not asking for it to be on town hall, we’re not asking for it to be on another public building. We’re asking for it to be in a history place where it actually belongs,” said one speaker at the council meeting. (Yep, a “history place.”)
Civil rights leaders and other members of the community say the flag needs to go. The Confederate era doesn’t seem so bygone with the flag flying outside a city-owned building. It wasn’t that laong ago that Rev. Lawrence Campbell was thrown down the stairs at the Municipal Building for daring to sit on the “white” side of the courthouse during the Civil Rights era. His wife was beaten during a peaceful protest march.
“I fought segregation,” Rev. Lawrence Campbell told GoDanRiver.com. “This flag is polarizing our community … I see it as people glorifying slavery.”
A man named Tommy Bennett also spoke out against the flag, talking about treatment he and his grandmother received 50 years ago, when they were pushed off sidewalks, spit on when his grandmother first went to vote and other indignities. He believes the only flag that should be honored is the American flag.
Officials, however, weren’t moved. They clung tight to the Confederate roots of the building, making it clear that they understand the symbolism behind flying the flag:
Councilman Buddy Rawley twice asked speakers when both sides of the issue could move ahead of events that lasted 150 or 50 years ago, sparking outrage from Marcus Hughes.
“When can we get over it?” Hughes asked. “We can never get over it if we keep experiencing it.”
Rawley and Hughes traded a few more comments, until Mayor Sherman Saunders reminded them to stick to the issue under discussion.
Steve Adkins said the flag is displayed in a historically accurate place, a site that can be viewed as the “end of the Confederacy.” He also suggested that the museum could move if it doesn’t like the flag on its lawn.
“[The building] wasn’t designed to be a museum,” Adkins said. “It’s the last capitol of the Confederacy.”
William Avon Keen, President of the Danville Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, believes that hate crime laws could bring it down. “The citizens of Danville may have a legal claim under the the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America and hate statutes,” he said.
The fight isn’t over.