Black leaders vehement in protest Confederate monument is set for rededication

September 22, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

A proclamation to declare Sunday Howard County Confederate Heritage Day and related plans by the local Sons of Confederate Veterans to rededicate a Confederate monument in Ellicott City have angered African-American leaders in Howard County who believe both events celebrate slavery and racism.

"We all know it's bigotry and hatred," Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, said yesterday. "I mean, let's face it."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who approved the proclamation, said it occurred to him that African-Americans might take offense at his decision but hopes they understand his reasons.

"I did not look at this as bestowing honor on those people who promoted slavery," he said. "I look at it as recognizing an important milestone in our history and also recognizing that we don't want slavery anymore. I want to treat all individuals fairly and equally."

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will read the proclamation at the rededication ceremony outside the Howard County Circuit Courthouse. The monument, completed 50 years ago Sunday, honors 92 Howard County men who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Howell said he was appalled to learn about the rededication, but even more appalled to learn about the county's approval.

"That caught me off balance," he said. "That it is county-sanctioned has really caught me off balance. I'm very, very disappointed in that. The act on the part of the county is in itself so insensitive that I can't even seem to imagine that they would have done that."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's office also received the proclamation request for Confederate Heritage Day, said Don Vandrey, a press officer. The governor forwarded it to the secretary of state and expects a decision this week, Vandrey said.

The granite monument took longer to erect than any other Confederate monument in the country, according to event organizer Bryan Green of Columbia. It has a bronze plaque decorated with a bugle, drum, flag, rifle, saber and laurel wreath. Honoring "the brave men who fought so courageously in the Confederate army," it lists five officers and 87 enlisted men.

Green said he planned Sunday's event to celebrate "heritage, not hate."

"We deplore the use of the Confederate battle flag or any other symbol of the Confederacy by hate groups or white supremacist groups," Green said yesterday. He is a member of the Col. William Norris Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans, which he said includes members from Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"We're not doing this to make anybody angry," he said. "We're doing this to honor our ancestors."

Howell doesn't buy that argument.

"Let's face it," he said. "Everybody uses race at times to get their name in the paper. People have certain attitudes about certain people in the community, and what better way to get it out than to rededicate a monument?"

Like Howell, Jenkins Odems, president of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was deeply troubled when he heard about the ceremony plans.

"Anyone that represents slavery, how can I be happy about it?" he said.

Odems first heard about the event when a reporter phoned him two weeks ago. "I must say I was quite surprised," he said.

On Sept. 10, he mentioned the rededication plans to NAACP board members and none of them had heard about it, he said.

"When I brought it up on the agenda, everyone was appalled," he said. He said action is being considered, but he declined to discuss specifics.

Sunday's ceremony, Green said, will include bugle and rifle salutes, a reading of the proclamation, roll call of the names on the monument, and presentation of wreaths and floral arrangements.

Constance Wehland, president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said she and about a dozen others in her group plan to attend the 2 p.m. ceremony. They will provide refreshments and present a wreath, she said.

Wehland, who has at least one ancestor who fought in the Confederate army -- a requirement for membership in both groups -- refused to discuss African-American concerns about the event.

Green said the Sons of the Confederate Veterans doesn't understand the objections.

The group "sees no problems," Green said. "It's our rededication. And if they [African-Americans] would like to come and join us, that's fine, and if they don't, that's fine also."

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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