Sons of Confederate Veterans ‘saddened’ by reaction, withdraw petition to standing ovation
Tears, anger, and passionate pleas turned to a rousing ovation with Tuesday evening’s announcement that the Sons of Confederate Veterans were withdrawing their petition for a proclamation of “Confederate History and Heritage Month” and “Confederate Memorial Day.”
Hours of protest speech, starting with a two-hour rally outside commission chambers, set the mood for a packed house. Speakers in opposition to the proclamation outnumbered those in support more than two dozen to two.
The fierce reaction convinced the petitioners it would be best to rescind their request, as Commissioner Charles Oddo announced as the meeting returned from a break roughly four hours in.
Oddo shared what he said was a very heartfelt conversation with one of the petitioners.
“He is deeply saddened, they all are, that this turned out the way it did. They never intended for this to happen,” said Oddo. “He is very, very emotionally frustrated. He wants you all to know this was not what they wanted, and he has asked me to announce that respectfully they are withdrawing their petition.”
Earlier in the evening, Scott Gilbert, the leader of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans branch, said it was never their goal to divide the community.
“We do not intentionally, at any time, anywhere, under any circumstance, do anything to hurt our community or to offend anybody. That is the farthest thing from our minds,” he said.
While the proclamation had been presented without opposition for many years, that would not be the case in 2018. Among the large crowd of speakers were parents, teachers, and state legislators.
Representative Derrick Jackson questioned the hypocrisy of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the meeting, then endorsing a proclamation that celebrates an entity that did not respect “liberty and justice for all.”
“You cannot say we’re going to love one another and embrace and have social justice equity and then turn around and we’re going to render a proclamation around treason and slavery. The two are not congruent,” he said.
Representative Debra Bazemore implored the commissioners to rethink their actions.
“When you have people who point out what’s wrong, you have to do what’s right,” she said. “This (proclamation) is not for everybody, this is for a few.”
State Senator Valencia Seay pled with the commissioners to say no.
“Fayette, don’t do it. Let’s not celebrate on the backs of (slaves),” she said. “This is too important to put a black eye on Fayette County.”
Several wondered why the county would even consider it in the first place.
“Proclamations are given to people that do something good,” said Yvonne Smith. “I don’t see nothing that they did that was good.”
Many questioned what they called the whitewashing of Civil War history with the proclamation’s claims that the “preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight” with no mention of denying the liberty and freedom of slaves.
“I feel shame when I read the proclamation because it does not represent history, it represents confederation mythology day,” said Elaine Beraza.
“This is the truth glossed over in the proclamations presented by this organization,” said Jovan Purifoy. “We already acknowledge the history of the Confederacy when we discuss it and teach it as part of the Civil War in American history. Don’t dedicate an entire month to pushing the narrative for slavery and the oppression of other humans.”
“If you decide to approve this proclamation, you’re saying to everybody else that this is what we stand for, and you’re going to put it in the history books that this is what Fayette County stood for,” she said. “You can be on one side of history or the other side of history.”
Commissioner Charles Rousseau said emphatically he would not have signed the proclamation. While he supports the right to honor one’s ancestors, he echoed the feelings of many speakers in questioning how it appears for the county to sign off on it.
“The language puts government in a position as though we were endorsing a position. That’s my take,” he said. “When we give the appearance that we’re endorsing a Confederate Day, a Confederate History Month, things of that nature, I am compelled by my personal convictions that I don’t support that.”
Even after the petition was rescinded, more opponents wanted to have their say.
“There is no country I’m aware of, nor any place, where losers are allowed, after committing treason, to erect monuments and have themselves celebrated,” said Rev. James Vance. “This does not make sense that we would consider any adoration for treason.”
Edward Ahmed Mitchell expressed optimism that the push for change will continue, eyeing the changing of roads named for Confederate Army figures as a pivotal point.
“All of this needs to change, and god-willing one day it will change,” he said. “Every generation of people in the South, and across America for that matter, gets a little more enlightened, a little more conscious of their neighbors and history, and so I believe one day Jeff Davis Drive will have a different name, and that Stonewall Avenue one day will have a different name. My hope is that this and other things will be sped up by what has happened here today.”
The Commissioners are now left to consider where they go from here.
Never before had they needed to discuss a proclamation, they said. Chairman Eric Maxwell expressed surprise at the outpouring of emotions regarding the proclamation, estimating he had received roughly 150 emails on the subject and only three of them in favor of the proclamation. In the numerous years prior when a similar proclamation had been approved, he said he had never once been contacted about it.
They will have to reconsider their process for proclamations, and whether or not they can continue to issue them all without offending an opposing side.
Commissioner Steve Brown called himself a fervent defender of free speech, and he also said he would gladly help a push to change the names of local streets honoring Confederate figures.
“We can stop doing proclamations all together, and that solves the problem, because then you don’t have to listen to anything that may offend you. Just don’t do it. Give in. Or we could entertain a proclamation from some very intelligent people,” he cautioned.
Commissioner Randy Ognio said he had already signed the proclamation.
“I don’t see it as promoting slavery. I see it as remembering what happened and where we are now,” he said. “I think we could all do a better job of teaching our kids what really happened so we don’t repeat this kind of thing.”
The idea of possible ongoing communication between the two sides was pitched, a chance for them to listen to what each other has to say.
Rousseau summed up the feelings of the room.
“There is no more to say, but there sure is a lot more to do.”