Was That Really Necessary, Mr. Councilman?

dowdell1_thumb1I‘ve said before that the best place to display a Confederate flag is in a museum where it can be properly interpreted.  It’s always surprised me that given the divisive history of this symbol that more heritage have not come out in favor of such a position.  To suggest that it ought to be interpreted simply as “Heritage, Not Hate” is to ignore much of the history of the mid-twentieth century and its use throughout the period of “massive resistance.”  Since this is unlikely we are left with a cultural tug-of-war that is unlikely every to be resolved.  Ideally it would be nice if various constituencies were able to be a bit more empathetic with other perspectives as a reflection of the multiple ways in which symbols are understood.  The SCV must understand and come to terms with the racist history of this symbol while the NAACP and others must recognize that not everyone who flies a Confederate flag is a racist who yearns for a return to the past.

Perhaps Auburn Councilman, Arthur L. Dowdell should have remembered this little piece of advice as he plucked from the ground a grave site full of Confederate flags, which had been placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of Confederate Memorial Day.

Dowdell said in his years as councilman, he had never seen so many Confederate flags in one place.  “I’m going on the record that this will never happen again,” Dowdell said. “This will never happen again as long as I’m on the city council.”  Dowdell denied intentionally snapping the flag.  “It might have snapped itself,” he said. “If it did, so what? If I had my way, I would have broke them all up and stomped on them and burned them. That flag represents another country, another nation.”

I understand the frustration, but was this the best way to express it?  Are we really to believe that this was the first time Dowdell noticed Confederate flags in a cemetery located just across the street from where his children attend school?  Finally, we should ask what Dowdell accomplished by pulling those flags and apparently snapping them in two.  Unilike most of us, Mr. Dowdell enjoys a public forum in which he can express his concerns about the state of his community.  He has a responsibility to use it wisely in the name of all of the people he represents. Use it wisely and use it to open constructive dialog rather than breed mistrust and bitterness.

12 comments… add one
  • Ray O'Hara Aug 12, 2011 @ 17:51

    I went to HS with a girl whose father was a Hauptman in the German Army in WWII, would it be appropriate to place a swastika flag over his grave at Memorial Day? after all he was just a Landser doing his duty to his country.

  • Charles Bowery Apr 27, 2009 @ 5:32

    The Confederate cemetery in Knoxville, TN is also in a predominately African-American section of that city. My mother-in-law is a UDC member and they honor the Decoration Day there with First National flags, not battle flags. I don’t believe they have encountered this problem. You are probably right- politics at work here more than contested memory.

  • Charles Lovejoy Apr 26, 2009 @ 11:04

    Interesting story ? I don’t feel that taking flags or anything else of f of graves is a wise thing to do. As a Voudu practitioner I would never do anything to a grave that was in any way disrespectful regardless who the person was or how I felt about the person. This person may incur repercussions from the spirit world.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 25, 2009 @ 18:42

    This clown really does take the cake. Nothing but a race baiter is my impression. I work at Carnton where 1,481 Confederate soldiers are buried and the local UDC puts the mini-flags up on the first Sunday of each June. They have a brief ceremony and remove the flags at the end of the day. I’ll tell you what, if a joker like this tried such a stunt there I’d be the first to haul him by the belt loop right out of the cemetery. And I’m a Yankee by birth, so no Southern bias here.


  • jawjablonde Apr 25, 2009 @ 16:58

    I attended the memorial in Columbus at Linwood Cemetery held by the UDC and was amazed at the classiness of the event. No mention was made of hatred or racism. Instead this was a day to honor these men above all as soldiers who were brave enough to leave their homes and families into inevitable defeat against the North.
    I think what the councilman did was disgusting! You don’t see white councilman walking around yanking African flags from public places during Black History month! The point of this is…he was deeply offended by the site of the Confederate flag because he automatically associated it with hatred. I’m appalled he had the nerve to remove things from someone’s grave. If I was the family I would press charges… Maybe next year the family will consider using another style of the Confederate flags…perhaps the Bonnie Blue? Bottom line I see Dixie flying and I have a sense of pride swell inside me of being Southern…unique and rich in culture unmatched by any other.

  • Ken Noe Apr 24, 2009 @ 12:49

    Stuart, I will not serve if elected. Indeed, I will hide under the bed.

    Kevin, my seminar discussed Bill Blair’s Cities of the Dead yesterday. Talk about politics, power, and contested space.

  • Richard Phillips Apr 24, 2009 @ 9:18

    This is scary stuff. It will give some nut an excuse to do something crazy.

  • Stuart Sanders Apr 24, 2009 @ 6:28

    Ken Noe for city council.

  • Ken Noe Apr 24, 2009 @ 4:01

    Rev. Dowdell’s short tenure on the council has included two very close elections in his ward as well as a federal investigation involving a student loan check. Call me crazy, but there just might be some political calculation involved here.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 24, 2009 @ 4:06


      Are you suggesting that politicians use the memory of the Civil War to further their own interests? 🙂

  • Ken Noe Apr 24, 2009 @ 3:31

    Gee, I leave town for one day and this happens.

    Auburn city politics being what they are, I suspect there’s more to this. One thing’s for sure, Pine Hill may be located near the center of town, but you can’t see it from the junior high or really much else unless you want to go down back streets. You have to make an effort to get there. Among the dead Confederates buried there are Gen. James Henry Lane and many Texans who died in in 1864 in Auburn’s “Texas Hospital.” No one’s asked me, but if they do, I’ll say that I think it’s perfectly appropriate to mark their graves, as has been done for a century. I also suspect that the ultimate result will be a lot more flags flying this weekend. The heritage folks in town are pretty moderate actually, but that’s not always so farther out in the counties. And here I am in Tuscaloosa of all places!

    • Kevin Levin Apr 24, 2009 @ 3:34


      I was hoping you would chime in on this one. You are probably right that there is much more going on than what the paper reports. I should have made this more explicit in the post, but I agree that there is nothing glaringly problematic about the decoration of the graves.

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