Soldiers tribute draws protest Activists oppose rededication of Confederate monument

September 25, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

When Bryan Green decided three months ago to organize a ceremony to honor men from Howard County who fought for the South in the Civil War, he says he envisioned a quiet, private ceremony at the site of a Confederate monument that lies behind the Howard County Circuit Courthouse in Ellicott City.

Instead, the event has attracted the attention of activists, black and white, who believe the Sons of Confederate Veterans' ceremony celebrates bigotry and hatred. Four community organizers gathered last night at Guilford Community Church in Columbia to vent their anger and plan a protest.

The ceremony -- and the protest -- are scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday. Green and his group, many of them in period dress, will rededicate the 50-year-old monument. Protesters plan to sing freedom songs and distribute literature about slavery.

"We'll be doing two things," said Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, "singing songs, and educating people."

Others at last night's meeting included Jenkins Odoms Jr., president of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Al McKegg, an NAACP member, and the Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of the Guilford congregation.

Wright said he plans to wear chains and a "For Sale" sign on Sunday to remind people what the Confederate soldiers fought for.

"They would castrate us," Wright said. "They would amputate our legs. When I see the Confederate flag, that's what comes to mind."

Wright said he does not know how many people will join the protest. He and the others plan to contact their members, churches and politicians -- thousands of people, although they don't expect all to come.

"This is not a black thing," Howell said.

Green, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said yesterday afternoon he had heard nothing about a protest, but reiterated that he is not holding the rededication ceremony to make anybody angry.

"My rededication is not in any shape or form against anybody," he said. "It's just we're rededicating this monument to honor the men who fought for the Confederacy for Howard County."

As for the protesters, he said, "It's a free country. They can do what they want."

Protesters also are angry but about County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proclamation, at Green's request, declaring Sunday "Howard County Confederate Heritage Day."

"I think Mr. Ecker was certainly off-key on this one," Wright said. "Out of reach, out of touch, almost out of his mind, if you ask me."

Ecker has said his proclamation "recognizes an important milestone in our history" without honoring slavery.

Green also requested a proclamation from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who referred it to Secretary of State John T. Willis. Catherine Bonsuk, executive assistant to Willis, said yesterday Willis would make a decision by noon today.

Green, who lives in Columbia, said he expects about 100 to 150 members of heritage groups -- not just Sons of Confederate Veterans -- to show up at the ceremony. He said he gets annoyed when people twist his words and actions to mean something they don't.

"My ancestor joined the war when he was 16 years old," he said. "He was a poor dirt farmer. As far as I can tell, they didn't own slaves. He fought because he felt he had to."

But Wright said he thinks Green is missing the point.

"We didn't come to this country as immigrants," he said. "We came as slaves. I think one of the problems in our community is, white people don't understand us. They really don't understand our church, our community, our heritage. Mr. Bryan Green doesn't understand."

Green said he has no plans to cancel the rededication ceremony because of the protest.

"God willing, the Yankees don't come in again, it will go off," he said.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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