A protest to take down the Confederate Monument and flag from the Walton County courthouse was briefly interrupted by a small scuffle Sunday afternoon.
Approximately 50 protesters marched the half mile from Harbeson Field to the courthouse chanting “Remove the Flag.” When they arrived, a group of roughly the same size was crowded around the monument and flag in counter protest.
Jalen Jones helped organized the March for Social Justice to the courthouse. He said he hopes the day’s action would move the hearts of Walton County commissioners. Many of the protesters plan to make their voices heard at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. Jalen warned protestors not to engage with the counter-protesters waiting at the monument.
“We’re all about love, we’re all about unity,” he said before the march. “We just want things to be right.”
Bonifay resident Beth Gates, 74, said she was shoved by one of the protesters and she fell on the pavement. DeFuniak Springs Police Chief James Hurley said Gates may not have been pushed intentionally. The incident is under investigation.
“I was standing here in front of the flag and the guy just appeared in front of me saying ‘I’m taking it down, I’m taking it down,’” Gates said. “I stepped in front of him and he just shoved me out of the way.”
Gates, who has ancestors who fought in the Civil War, said she believes the monument and flag are military symbols. Not symbols of hate.
“It’s ridiculous that they want to bring hate into it,” she said. “I don’t hate anybody. I don’t even hate those people, but I darn sure disagree with them.”
It has often been suggested that the monument not be torn down, but simply moved from the courthouse. Steve McBroom, a self-described historian, said it’s not feasible to move the monument.
“It already has some cracks in it, and we don’t want it to get pushed or moved because it will disintegrate,” he said. “I’m totally against moving it all. I guess in 50 years it will be gone altogether.”
The Walton County Confederate Monument and the Confederate flag right beside it have been debated on for decades in the county. Late last month, commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the Confederate flag flying. While the monument to the Confederate dead was erected in 1871 in the original county seat of Eucheeanna, the flag came in 1964, the same year as the Civil Rights Act.
“There’s one flag here that divides us,” said one of the march organizers, Sabu Williams, from the courthouse steps. “I know there’s a lot of feelings on both sides, but if it divides us why in the world do we fly it? Why do we fly it on a public lawn where all of us have to come … Black, White, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians … come seeking justice? Why in the world, in 2020, do we think we should be flying a Confederate flag that hasn’t been, or shouldn’t have been flown since 1865?”
Williams also urged people to not just speak with signs and chants, but with their wallets; suggesting a boycott of Walton County businesses. Earlier this month, Black Americans participated in the national Blackout Day, which called for a one-day spending stoppage from Black consumers.
Aside from the incident, protesters and counter-protesters stayed to either side of the lawn in front of the courthouse. There was also a table to register to vote. Counter-protesters yelled out a few times during speeches and responded to chants of “Take it down” with “Come and get it.”
As a Walton County resident, Cheri McKoy said it’s not fair to her to be faced with the Confederate flag every time she has to go to the courthouse. To her, it’s not up for debate.
“I have to pay taxes here I have register my car and I have to look at that flag,” she said. “It’s hate, it’s anger, it needs to come down. So, there’s nothing to talk about.”
In Escambia County, Pensacola City Council will meet this week to discuss removal of it's Confederate Monument.