Rebel flag causes furor in Allegany

August 05, 1994|By Greg Tasker ~~TC | Greg Tasker ~~TC,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

CUMBERLAND -- A Confederate battle flag on display at Cumberland's City Hall has come under fire from local NAACP members, who want city officials to remove the controversial banner.

"The Confederacy is dead and gone. [Cumberland] needs to be aware of the problems this flag creates for African-Americans," said Gary E. Beckward, vice president of the Allegany County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"The flag belongs in a museum -- not in a public facility like City Hall," he added.

Unlike a recent controversy about the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina State House, the Stars and Bars in Cumberland is part of an indoor display unchanged for years and is not being flown outside a public building. The flag is among other banners hanging in the City Hall rotunda.

The flags, which include various U.S., state and county banners, represent Cumberland's history, city officials said.

Despite the NAACP's request for the "immediate removal" of the flag, the Cumberland City Council earlier this week did not comply. The council referred the issue to the city solicitor and the historic commission for review and recommendations.

"We do understand their concerns," Mayor Edward C. Athey said. "But I don't like somebody demanding something and they were demanding something. We want to find out why the flag is there. We don't want to make any snap decisions on the request."

Jeffrey E. Repp, city administrator, said the flag has been on display at City Hall for about 20 years. He and other city officials were uncertain whether the flag had ever been flown outside City Hall.

City officials said they were unfamiliar with the extent of Cumberland's Confederate past. "From what I can see, the flag is just one of many that was flown over the city in its history," he said. "I'm sure when it was put up it was not with the intent of degrading African-Americans."

But NAACP members find the flag offensive.

"I'm sure you are well aware of the emotional trauma this flag causes African-Americans locally and nationally," Mr. Beckward wrote city officials last month.

Mr. Beckward said yesterday that if Cumberland officials fail to remove the Confederate banner, state and national chapters of the NAACP will become involved, just as they did in South Carolina.

"It's caused a lot of concern up here and hopefully, [the city council] will take it down," Mr. Beckward said. "If they don't, we have other channels to go through to make sure it comes down. The rotunda is no place for it."

Mr. Beckward said NAACP members were unaware of the flag until a few months ago. The organization -- which has about 50 active members in Allegany County -- broached the mayor about removing the flag a few months ago and submitted a written request to the council last week.

The four-member council has no black member. About 3 percent of the city's 24,000 residents are black.

Mr. Athey said he found the issue -- which has become the subject of local radio talk shows -- upsetting.

"I don't like this kind of turmoil," he said. "It's not a pleasant thing to experience."

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