While cities and organizations in the South are rethinking Confederate monuments in the light of protests against systemic racism, Walton County is not making any moves to change.
After public discussion, the board voted 3-2 Tuesday morning to keep the Confederate Flag flying at the courthouse. The issue was added to Tuesday’s agenda by two county residents, Jack Adair and Michael Bowden. At the meeting, Adair said while he’s proud of his southern heritage, the flag represented division and did not belong at the courthouse.
“It represents slavery,” he said. “There’s no reason it should still be flying.”
The courthouse flag has been much debated for years. The original flag, with the X-shaped Southern Cross, was replaced in 2015 by vote for the first version (and less overt) of the Confederate flag known as the Stars and Bars, with a circle of stars alongside red and white bars. In 2018, the flag issue was put on the general ballot in a nonbinding referendum which passed with nearly 65% of voters agreeing to keep the flag.
The flag is just a few feet from the monument honoring Walton County’s Confederate dead. The monument was first erected in 1871 after a group of women raised $250 for the monument. The flag was placed in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act was signed.
Calling in to the meeting via Zoom, Bowden likened taking down Confederate monuments and flags to “answering the altar call.”
“So many are going to the altar already,” he said referencing decisions in Birmingham, Alabama, Richmond, Virginia, and Louisville, Kentucky, where monuments have been moved or taken down. “What may beckon you to come forward to the altar?”
When the flag was put on the 2018 general election ballot there were 30,579 voters of the 50,263 registered voters in the county. Speaking to the board, Walton County resident Anthony Johnson said people who oppose the flag may never get the majority vote.
“We are depending on you to do what’s right for all citizens in Walton County,” he said.
George Hogans grew up in Defuniak Springs and recalls the first year of integration as the all-Black Tivoli School was closed. He said people may have come a long way, but the flag is a symbol of division.
“We can get along, but for some reason we can’t get that flag out of the courthouse,” he said wearing a Tivoli Tigers shirt.
Speaking about the monument, Stephen McBroom said he didn’t know what the issue was, since the monument does not mention the Confederacy. Commissioner Bill Chapman clarified that the issue at hand was the Confederate flag.
Commissioner Danny Glidewell has been a staunch supporter for leaving the flag, even before he was on the board. He argued that citizens made their voices heard in 2018.
“Sixty-five percent of the people asked for that flag to stay,” he said. “To so cavalierly dismiss the will of the people for politically expediency — just so we can go along with the crowd — is wrong.”
“Things have changed in the last two years,” Chapman responded.
Admitting that he might lose votes ahead of his election, Commissioner Tony Anderson said the flag needs to come down. Even after the vote, he urged citizens to keep bringing the issue to the board.
“It’s not how you or I see it as an affront, it’s how African Americans see it. And they see it as an affront to their dignity,” he said. “I’ve got people that are probably texting me right now telling me to shut the hell up, but this is an issue that’s not going to go away and we’re going to have to confront it sooner or later.”
Walton County Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder has been known more recently as the "Grim Reaper" after suing Gov. Ron DeSantis for not closing beaches amid the pandemic. Before that, he was fighting the Confederate flag issue since 2001. Today’s decision was a bit of deja vu, but he said the efforts to take the flag down aren’t over. He calls the flag "embarrassing."
“There’s more people getting on board,” he said. “We just need one more commissioner. I can’t wait to go to the courthouse one day and not see it.”