Battle Over Confederate Flag Rages On In Walton County
The debate over flying the Confederate Battle Flag on government property might stem from last month’s shooting in Charleston, South Carolina; but the discussion has taken on a life of its own throughout the Florida Panhandle.
Applause and cheering was the reaction residents gave Walton County Commissioners when finding out the discussion over whether or not the flag will be removed from the courthouse lawn in DeFuniak Springs would be tabled until the next meeting on Tuesday.
The President of the NAACP’s Northwest Florida Branch, Raymond Jackson, says removing the flag that’s been up since 1964 is a step in the right direction to bring unity to the county, “When we see this flag it brings back memories of the time when we had separate waiting rooms in the bus station, black and white drinking fountains in the courthouse. When we did fight for our civil rights, the county commission voted to put this flag up to let us know where they stood on our civil rights.”
This is not the first time efforts have been mounted to remove the Confederate flag in Walton County. Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder tried unsuccessfully in 2002. Since then, two new commissioners have been elected, and Uhlfelder says he has a petition with over 1.600 signatures, both locally and nationally, in another such campaign, “This flag must be removed because it has become a symbol of division, racism, bigotry, and disunity. Studies have shown that placement of the flag on courthouse grounds directly effects the ability of a person being able to get equal justice and a fair trial. Not just for African Americans but for whites. Your task is very simple. There’s no reason to delay. Do you want to tell the rest of the world that when you come to the Walton County Courthouse you are not going to get a fair trial or equal justice?”
Another speaker at the mid-month meeting at the South West Annex is President of the Democratic Black Caucus of Walton County, Doris Johnson. Johnson says if the flag is removed it could correct some wrongs of the past that continue to haunt the present. She says it’s long overdue and the right thing to do, “With your yes vote, the beloved confederate flag flying on the courthouse lawn can be removed with appropriate honor and fanfare if desired and placed in a museum where it is properly displayed, protected, and memorialized. Search your hearts. Try to imagine your feelings if the situation was reversed. Then consider your responsibility as an elected official, voted in by people who felt competent that you would make decisions in the best interest of all.”
A monument for the Confederate war dead sits on the courthouse lawn. It’s cared for by the Heritage Museum, while the flag flying above it is maintained by the county.
Some residents at the meeting expressed their opposition to bringing down the flag. One of them was Wayne McCloud, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a sixth generation Floridian, “Regarding the second historical lie that the war was fought in defense of slavery is absurd on its face. Ninety to ninety five percent of Southerners did not own a single slave. Is one to believe that Southern men took up arms, abandoned their wives and children, left their farms unattended, and unprotected, endured four bloody years of bloody battles, death, dismemberment, deprivation, and disease in order for the remaining five to ten percent of the aristocracy to hold on to their slaves. How moronic it is to believe such a thing.”
McCloud says one can venerate or curse the South’s desire for independence. But he adds calling the conflict the “Civil War” perpetuates what he calls “a shameful misnomer,” “I love Old Glory, I support it, I’m an American, I would die for Old Glory. If I thought the Confederate Battle Flag was racist or depicted segregation or stood for racism in any form I would shimmy up the pole myself and drag it down. We don’t need the battle flag to be lowered; we need history to be taught in schools.”
Another speaking out against the flag coming down is retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Phillip White, whose ancestor’s name is on the monument. White spoke against the flag’s removal in 2002 when the vote to take it down was 5 to 0 against. He says if the flag is removed the next step will be banishment of the monument, “We have the opportunity to show that in Walton County, Florida there is still respect for American war dead and the history of this nation good and bad. With individuals and groups publicly calling for the desecration of Confederate Soldiers’ graves nothing is sacred. Me and other people in this country, in this state, ask when and where will it end?”
Walton County Commissioners will hear from residents again aptly at the DeFuniak Springs Courthouse where the flag still flies Tuesday morning at nine o’clock.