Frederick ball linked to Confederacy, protesters say

September 06, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- A costume ball planned this weekend to celebrate Frederick's 250th anniversary is prompting protests from some residents here who find its links to the Confederacy offensive.

The Sabers and Roses Ball, set for Friday at the Holiday Inn, is being held on the same day Confederate Gen. J. E. B. Stuart was a host of a dance at a school in nearby Urbana in 1862. The ball's name derives from Confederate soldiers' decorating the school in swords and roses.

"Clearly, the city is making a Confederate connection," said Dan Mahone, a Frederick attorney who is among those who have been protesting the ball outside City Hall since last week. "We don't want the city sponsoring anything that promotes the Confederacy. It sends the wrong message to the community."

Mr. Mahone, along with members of Concerned Citizens for Racial Justice and the Peace Resource Center, are asking Frederick officials to cancel the dance or to abstain from attending and renounce its theme.

"Every six months or so, there is a racist incident that emerges in this community," said Lillian Herz, vice president of the Peace Resource Center, who picketed yesterday. "People need to be aware of these injustices. [The racism] has to stop."

Protesters said such incidents, including the appearance of a Ku Klux Klan car at a county fair in September 1993, continue to divide the community of about 40,000 people, about 10 percent of whom are black.

Protesters contend that the Confederacy was a white supremacist government and that the ball romanticizes a dance originally conducted by slaveholders.

Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes, who planned to meet with a representative of the protesters last night, said that "the ball was never promoted as, and was never intended to be, a Confederate ball." His office issued a statement last week apologizing for any misunderstandings.

"Because it was being held on the same night as the [J.E.B. Stuart] ball, we borrowed the title," Mr. Grimes said. "This is a period ball celebrating 250 years of Frederick's history. The celebration has been citywide and has been inclusive of every individual that has come forward with ideas."

Cancellation of the ball is unlikely. More than 800 tickets -- at $25 apiece -- have been sold. Officials have been promoting the event for about six months. The ball was announced a year ago as one of numerous events this year marking the city's anniversary.

Joseph E. Lebherz, chairman of a committee handling special events for the anniversary celebration, said the ball's name was chosen to add historical flavor after officials learned that Stuart held a ball in Frederick County on the same date.

Plans to hold a ball in December in commemoration of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette's return to Frederick in the 1820s were scrapped because space was not available. The September date was the next date available and fell in the month Frederick was founded.

Alderman Meta Nash said while talking to protesters yesterday that "if this were a re-enactment of a Confederate ball, I would find that abhorrent and would be out here with a sign picketing. There was no intent to be associated with the Confederacy."

Event officials said the ball will include 19th century music and rock and swing bands. Guests are encouraged to dress in tuxedos and gowns -- or in costume from any period.

Joe Shelton, a Frederick warehouse worker who will be dressed in a Confederate uniform at the ball, plans to attend despite the controversy. He will portray Gen. James Lawson Kemper, and his wife, Linda, will portray Kemper's wife.

"I'm doing this because I want to be part of Frederick's history," Mr. Shelton said. "And it's part of my family history. Both my great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War -- one on each side. . . . I don't think anyone who attends the ball should be considered a slaveholder."

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