Confederate Monument Costs Georgetown Group State Funding - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Confederate Monument Costs Georgetown Group State Funding

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The Delaware Confederate Monument, seen from Chopper 16. The Delaware Confederate Monument, seen from Chopper 16.

DOVER, Del. --- A Confederate battle flag has waved for more than a decade above a monument in the back corner of the Marvel Museum property owned by the Georgetown Historical Society.

But this year, the flag will cost the group more than $14,000 in state grant money.

Lawmakers last month removed funding planned for the Georgetown Historical Society on the last day of the legislative calendar, a move that follows calls from members of some civil rights organizations that have requested the monument be removed or funding be stripped from the nonprofit.

"It came out of the blue," said Jeff Plummer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that maintains the monument memorializing Delawareans who supported the Confederacy as participants or civilians during the U.S. Civil War.

The move was precipitated by Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), a lawmaker on the General Assembly's Joint Finance Committee, who recommended the funding requested by the Georgetown Historical Society be struck from the $55 million Grant in Aid package, which funds fire companies, senior centers, and various nonprofits.

Paradee said he was in charge of reviewing requests from historical and artistic groups seeking state grant money and did not feel Delaware should support an organization that houses a Confederate monument with a battle flag out in the open. He said the Confederate battle flag has become a symbol adopted by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis that seek the persecution of minorities.

"It's private property. They're free to leave that monument up and that flag up but I don't think Delaware taxpayers should be responsible for that," he said.

Members of the Joint Finance Committee signed off on the entire grant package containing Paradee's recommended cuts and sent it to the full General Assembly for a vote, where it was approved by lawmakers in the House and Senate without a single "no" vote.

Overall, the Georgetown Historical Society had requested $30,000 in funding that would mostly be used for utility bills or maintenance for museum buildings and other places preserved by the group. A total of $14,433 was initially proposed for the organization, which has regularly received more than $10,000 in funding through Grant in Aid, even during a recent budget year when recipients faced 20-percent cuts across the board.

Debbie Jones, the group's vice president, said the decision to axe the group's funding from the Grant in Aid bill was unfortunate and will hurt the financial footing of a nonprofit that maintains historic buildings like the Marvel Carriage Museum, frequently hosts educational trips from schools, and is involved with organizing Return Day, the state's famous post-election bash in Georgetown.

"It costs a lot of money for insurance bills, electric, and upkeep, especially for older buildings. While $14,000 doesn't sound like a lot, it's humongous when you have to fundraise that money," she said.

Plummer, who pointed out that the names of black Delawareans who supported the Confederacy are among those etched in the memorial, disagreed with Paradee's assertions about the Confederate battle flag and said the flag is not a symbol that belongs exclusively to hate groups.

"The Confederate battle flag has been singled out as being the only flag they use, which is not true. We can't let others define our symbols. We look at it as a historical symbol and not a hate symbol," he said.

Unveiled in 2007, the Delaware Confederate Monument honors "statesmen who resided in Delaware prior to the War between the States or those that fought or gave aid to the Confederate States of America," according to the website belonging to Plummer's group, the Delaware Grays. The group says many Delawareans were supportive of the Confederacy's cause, despite Delaware remaining a union state during the conflict, which was sparked in connection to the issue of states' rights to uphold slavery.

The monument was recognized at its unveiling with a proclamation presented on behalf of then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), who declared May 12-18 of that year as "Confederate History and Heritage Week" in Delaware.

But in recent years, officers from the state chapter and local divisions of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have called on lawmakers to stop funding the organization over the Confederate monument.

Many of those requests followed events like a mass shooting in 2015 at a South Carolina church that left nine African American churchgoers dead. The man convicted in the killings was an admitted white supremacist who had posed with the Confederate flag in a number of photos that emerged following the event.

Similar calls for the monument's removal followed unrest at Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 that saw clashes between groups protesting the removal of Confederate monuments and counter-demonstrators. A woman was killed during the incident after a car driven by a man later convicted of first-degree murder plowed into a group of counter protesters.

Jean Wiley with the Milford and Slaughter Neck NAACP said the legislature's decision was the correct one.

"The state has to set a precedent of what they need to do with those funds," she said.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown), a member of the Joint Finance Committee who signed off on releasing the Grant in Aid bill to the House, said she was unhappy with the decision to get rid of the funding.

In particular, Briggs King said she felt the timing of the recommended funding cut forced her and some lawmakers to either accept an individual decision they were opposed to or vote against the entire Grant in Aid package and the money going to volunteer fire companies or senior centers.

"I was disappointed in the way this was done at the end of session without any discussion or input from my community before it was done," she said.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) was critical of Paradee, a Kent County lawmaker, for recommending a cut to an organization outside of his district over a topic he believes many Georgetown residents care about.

"I was very disappointed there was no conversation about this before it was cut from an organization that does a whole lot more than the one issue they have a problem with," he said.

Wiley said she believes the issue of state funding for the organization is more important than just Georgetown---or Sussex County, for that matter.

"We are talking about a whole group of people-- a diverse group of people --and that flag does not represent a diverse group of people," she said.

In 2017, Gov. John Carney (D) called the Confederate battle flag a "symbol of this country's history with racism and injustice" and said taxpayer money should not support public display of a flag he felt should be moved inside a museum, rather than flown in open air.

Paradee believes the Georgetown Historical Society should take that step.

"To honor those people who fought to preserve slavery in this country, I think, sends a really horrible message to school children and future generations. I don't think we should be normalizing the display of the Confederate flag," he said.

Plummer disagrees with Paradee and said the monument and flag are exactly where they should be: displayed within the confines of a museum property.

"That's where we put things that we want to teach," he said. "To have that attacked is unconscionable."

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