Md. official rejects request on monument Confederate Veterans sought proclamation for Ellicott City event

September 26, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

A controversial plan to rededicate a Confederate monument in Ellicott City received another blow yesterday as Maryland's secretary of state refused to issue a proclamation he considered inflammatory.

John T. Willis declined to approve a request by Sons of Confederate Veterans to proclaim tomorrow "Howard County Confederate Heritage Day," saying it would be "inappropriate" to issue a government proclamation that "unnecessarily inflames emotions and might divide rather than unify the citizens of Maryland."

Community activists, who contend the event celebrates slavery, are planning to protest the group's 2 p.m. ceremony rededicating the monument, which is outside the Howard County Courthouse. But they said they were pleased with Willis' decision and praised his sensitivity.

"I think it's very appropriate and certainly makes a lot of sense that the secretary of state would decline such an act that would sanction and give approval to the Confederacy," said the Rev. John L. Wright of the Guilford Community Church in Columbia.

"It shows a strong side of the government to uplift and not to go back and remind us of the past, remind us of the brutal treatment of African-Americans who came to this country as slaves."

Wright, who has helped organize tomorrow's protest, said he plans to wear chains and a "For Sale" sign to remind people what the Confederacy represented.

This week, County Executive Charles I. Ecker issued a proclamation that acknowledges the rededication. Activists say he showed poor judgment.

"I'm outraged," said Jenkins Odoms Jr., president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "This is too much to take. The Confederate military was an instrument of hate. This goes deeper than just a memorial service. And then to be endorsed by the county is just outrageous."

Odoms and other community leaders plan to sing freedom songs tomorrow outside the courthouse. They also are planning to distribute fliers on brutalities of slavery.

Ecker said he does not think he was wrong to honor the rededication with a county-sponsored proclamation and that he never intended to offend anybody.

"I don't condone slavery or racism, and I don't think the Sons of the Confederate Veterans does either," he said. "It's just, in my mind, remembering part of our history, even if it's a bad part of our history, and then trying to build a bridge."

Columbia resident Bryan Green, a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, began organizing the rededication about

three months ago to honor the men from Howard County who fought for the South. The 50-year-old monument bears the names of 92 Confederate soldiers from the county.

Green said the ceremony will include bugle and rifle salutes, a roll call of the names on the monument, a reading of the county proclamation and a speech on the history of the monument.

He also wanted to read a proclamation from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, he said, and is disappointed at Willis' rejection. "I don't know if he's trying to please everybody," he said. "You know you can't please everybody all the time. It was just a simple request."

Green has said he never planned to offend anyone. He said the group's motto is: "Heritage, not hate."

Ecker said yesterday he hopes he can meet with protesters and members of Sons of Confederate Veterans to talk and "come to some understanding."

L "They're really not as far apart as they may seem," he said.

Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, disagrees. "The inability of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1998 to come forward in the spirit of atonement, coupled with the Howard County executive's view that the rededication is recognizing an 'important milestone in our history,' is the clearest indication that the struggle for liberation and a higher level of human life continues," he said.

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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