Who Will Stand Up For Confederate Heritage in Union Springs?

Last week in Union Springs, Alabama former State Senator and County Commissioner Myron Penn brought his family to a local Confederate cemetery and removed small Confederate flags that decorated individual graves. The African-American politician and lawyer explained his actions this way:

The reason why we picked them up is because the image of the flags in our community, a lot of people feel that they’re a symbol of divisiveness and oppression… I would think that no one in our community would have a problem with… my actions at all.

Well, as you might imagine, there are folks in the community and beyond who have a problem with his actions, but so far no charges have been filed. While steps are being taken to replace the flags – apart from a few death threats – Mr. Penn’s actions appear to have no consequences attached to it.

There was a time when even the rumor of such a step being taken by a black man in such a place might have easily resulted in a public lynching. In 2015 Mr. Penn can speak for his community and even publicize this act for everyone to see and with no apologies.

This story will likely blow over very soon and life in Union Springs (to whatever extent it has been disrupted as a result) will return to normal. Confederate flags may return to the cemetery, but in 2015 it appears they can just as easily be removed.

About Kevin Levin

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28 comments add yours

  1. Sorry but if his actions are criminal in nature then his race of personal feeling have no place in the judicial process. Would he removed the flags from The Kings Army at British graves here in this country? Remember they fought and killed Americans and wanted to keep us as political and economic slaves to the crown.

    But then we have learnd ed that some actions are racially motivated and excusable. I.E. Baltimore

    • Alow me to remind the good man that…

      First and most significant is the fact that by Public Law 85-425, May 23, 1958 (H.R. 358) 72 Statute 133 states – “(3) (e) for the purpose of this section, and section 433, the term ‘veteran’ includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term ‘active, military or naval service’ includes active service in such forces.”

      As a result of this law the last surviving Confederate Veteran received a U.S. Military pension until his death in 1959, and from that day until present, descendants of Confederate veterans have been able to receive military monuments to place on graves from the Veteran’s Administration for their ancestors. A Confederate Veteran should therefore be treated with the same honor and dignity of any other American veteran.

      At least four U.S. Navy Ships within the submarine force have been named in honor of Confederate heroes or individuals associated with the CSS Hunley (first successful submarine to sink another vessel in combat). They are:USS Dixon (AS‐37) (http://www.navysite.de/ships/as37.htm) named after the submarine’s commanding officer, Lieutenant George Dixon, who died that February night in 1864.USS Hunley (AS‐31) (http://www.navysite.de/ships/as31.htm) named after the submarine’s designer, Horace L. Hunley, who died on the second Hunley training accident.USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN 601) (http://www.navysite.de/ssbn/ssbn601.htm) Commanding General of the Confederate States Army, graduate of West Point, and arguably one of the most gifted military strategists in American history.USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN 634) (http://www.navysite.de/ssbn/ssbn634.htm) named after General Thomas Jackson, considered General Lee’s “right hand man”, who died at Chancellorsville, which many say led to the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg and ultimately the loss of the War.

      There is not a single Army Veteran who can say he has not served aboard one of the U.S. Military installations named for a Confederate hero.Fort Benning, Georgia – Major General Henry L. Benning, CSAFort Bragg, North Carolina – General Braxton Bragg, CSAFort Campbell, Kentucky – Brig. General William Bowen Campbell, CSAFort Gordon, Georgia – General John Brown Gordon, CSAFort A.P. Hill, Virginia – Lt. General Ambrose Powell Hill, CSAFort Hood, Texas – General John Bell Hood, CSACamp Lee, Virginia – General Robert E. Lee, CSAFort Polk, Louisiana – Lt. General Leonidas K. Polk, CSAFort Rucker, Alabama – Colonel Edmond W. Rucker, CSA

      Congressional SupportBackground

      At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a move in the North was made to reconcile with Southerners. President McKinley was instrumental in this movement. When the Spanish-American War concluded successfully in December 1898, President McKinley used this as an opportunity to “mend the fences”. On 14 December 1898 he gave a speech in which he urged reconciliation based on the outstanding service of Southerners during the recent war with Spain. Remember, as part of the conciliation, several former Confederate officers were commissioned as generals to include former Confederate cavalry general, Wheeler. This is what McKinley said:

      “…every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate civil war [sic] is a tribute to American valor [my emphasis]… And the time has now come… when in the spirit of fraternity we should share in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers…The cordial feeling now happily existing between the North and South prompts this gracious act and if it needed further justification it is found in the gallant loyalty to the Union and the flag so conspicuously shown in the year just passed by the sons and grandsons of those heroic dead.”

      The response from Congress to this plea was magnanimous and resulted in the Appropriations Act of FY 1901 (below).

      Remarks: McKinley’s address as the President is significant. He clearly alludes to Confederates as “Americans”. While the semantics may appear minor, the impact is major. Confederate soldiers were already Americans, however, the President acknowledged this fact officially. They are not addressed as “U.S.” soldiers, but “American” which carries the import of giving them equivalent, not equal, status to Federal soldiers. It did not grant them the right to a U.S. pension, however, it did recognize them as fellow countrymen due the respect and honor accorded to U.S. soldiers.

      Congressional Appropriations Act, FY 1901, signed 6 June 1900Congress passed an act of appropriations for $2,500 that enabled the “Secretary of War to have reburied in some suitable spot in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, and to place proper headstones at their graves, the bodies of about 128 Confederate soldiers now buried in the National Soldiers Home near Washington, D.C., and the bodies of about 136 Confederate soldiers now buried in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia.”

      Remarks: More important than the amount (worth substantially more in 1900 than in 2000) is the move to support reconciliation by Congressional act. In 1906, Confederate Battle flags were ordered to be returned to the states from whence they originated. Some states refused to return the flags. Wisconsin still has at least one flag it refuses to return.

      Congressional Act of 9 March 1906(P.L. 38, 59th Congress, Chap. 631-34 Stat. 56)Authorized the furnishing of headstones for the graves of Confederates who died, primarily in Union prison camps and were buried in Federal cemeteries.

      Remarks: This act formally reaffirmed Confederate soldiers as military combatants with legal standing. It granted recognition to deceased Confederate soldiers commensurate with the status of deceased Union soldiers.

      U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by 17th Congress 26 February 1929(45 Stat 1307 – Currently on the books as 38 U.S. Code, Sec. 2306)This law, passed by the U.S. Congress, authorized the “Secretary of War to erect headstones over the graves of soldiers who served in the Confederate Army and to direct him to preserve in the records of the War Department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected.”

      Remarks: This act broadened the scope of recognition further for all Confederate soldiers to receive burial benefits equivalent to Union soldiers. It authorized the use of U.S. government (public) funds to mark Confederate graves and record their locations.

      U.S. Public Law 85-425: Sec. 410 Approved 23 May 1958(US Statutes at Large Volume 72, Part 1, Page 133-134)The Administrator shall pay to each person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War a monthly pension in the same amounts and subject to the same conditions as would have been applicable to such person under the laws in effect on December 31, 1957, if his service in such forces had been service in the military or naval forces of the United States.

      Remarks: While this was only a gesture since the last Confederate veteran died in 1958, it is meaningful in that only forty-five years ago (from 2003), the Congress of the United States saw fit to consider Confederate soldiers as equivalent to U.S. soldiers for service benefits. This final act of reconciliation was made almost one hundred years after the beginning of the war and was meant as symbolism more than substantive reward.

      Additional Note: Under current U.S. Federal Code, Confederate Veterans are equivalent to Union Veterans.

      U.S. Code Title 38 – Veterans’ Benefits, Part II – General Benefits, Chapter 15 – Pension for Non-Service-Connected Disability or Death or for Service, Subchapter I – General, § 1501. Definitions: (3) The term “Civil War veteran” includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term “active military or naval service” includes active service in those forces.

      http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/titles.html

      ~This document is a compilation from a document entitled “Sons of Confederate Veterans: Junior ROTC H.L. Hunley Award Program” as well as from a website entitled “Critical History” with the specific address (http://www.criticalhistory.info/html/us_support_for_cv.html).
      http://www.criticalhistory.info/html/us_support_for_cv.html
      http://www.criticalhistory.info/html/us_support_for_cv.html
      CRITICALHISTORY.INFO

      • None of this has anything to do with local laws that are more directly connected to this particular case. I suspect that what has shaped Mr. Penn’s perspective on the memory of Confederate soldiers and the flag has nothing to do with any of this.

        • So why was he in a Confederate cemetery in the first place?

        • Mr. Levin I know of you, and I regret people knowing this. Mr. Penn needed the publicity to run for office again, and this was his way of being noticed. It has everything to do with this, sir. Open your eyes!

          • Mr. Levin I know of you, and I regret people knowing this.

            I know exactly what you mean, Freda. This is the first and most important step in your road to recovery.

      • Mr. Tucker,

        And in every instance you give, the United States Flag, not the Confederate First, Second or Third National, the Battleflag of the Army of Northern Virginia or any other Confederate flag was flown in any official capacity in any of the instaces you mentioned.

        All four of the US vessels you mentioned have been made into razor blades or automobiles for 20 years. They were launched at a time when the Centenial, which was not well interpreted, was full in the minds of Naval leaders…who wanted to get appropriations from Southern politicians.

        I have served or been on almost every oen of those posts you mentioned.

        And nowhere do you see a Confederate flag…because those installations are UNITED STATES Army installations…the VERY same Army which probably put those Confederates in those graves. And those names were decided when the land was taken through eminent domain during mobilization for World War 1 or 2 and the idea was to use Confederate names to gain buy in from the locals.

        And while some Southern Army National Guard units have Confederate lineage and displays that service on their campaign streamers it is on unit colors which flies next to the UNITED STATES Flag.

        http://www.history.army.mil/html/reference/army_flag/cw.html

    • “Sorry but if his actions are criminal in nature. . . .”

      That remains to be seen. Alabama (like most other jurisdictions) has laws regarding protection of memorials and gravesites, but whether those protections extend to transient items like stick flags placed by visitors remains to be seen. I’m very doubtful about that, but someone would have to dig into Alabama case law for an answer on that.

  2. Actually, the legal violation may have been committed by the litterers who left the flags. According to the local Fox affiliate:

    The mayor, Saint T. Thomas Jr., was not in the office Friday, but over the phone, he briefly discussed the matter. He says an outside group came into Union Springs to set the flags out at the cemetery and that they were in the wrong, not Penn.

    “Something happened that should not have happened. The group who put them down should have asked for permission from the city council. They had no business putting them out in the first place,” Thomas said, calling it “illegal activity.”

    Read more: http://www.foxcarolina.com/story/29080441/removal-of-confederate-flags-from-cemetery-sparks-controversy#ixzz3aUjNN5Uz

    http://www.foxcarolina.com/story/29080441/removal-of-confederate-flags-from-cemetery-sparks-controversy#ixzz3aKELdfDK

    • And they’re always the same. Names and places change, but otherwise it’s the same script, every time — you know, like Letterman.

  3. Temporary stick flags and similar devices are placed and removed from graves all the time — in the latter case, often by cemetery grounds maintenance personnel. No one gets too worked up over these events, and I can’t recall a single case where the removal of a stick flag was prosecuted as an act of grave desecration or something similar under local or state law.

    That said, Penn’s actions were deliberately provocative and designed to inflame opinions, not to inform or spur rational discussion. He doesn’t deserve the attention he’s getting by being a rhetorical bomb-thrower.

    • 2009, Auburn Alabama. Pine Hill Cemetery.
      Black City Councilman Aurthur Dowdell brazenly swipes 4 stick flags from the graves of Confederates.
      He makes $20 restitution to the UDC, is sternly scolded by the City Council and makes a public apology.

      2011, Georgia Power, Heard County Ga. Black security guard removed 7 stick flags off graves of Confederates in private cemetery. After intense media coverage, the flags are returned, Georgia Power adds new gate/fencing to cemetery. Black guard is quietly fired.

      2015, Union Springs, Alabama. Black layer brazenly swipes over 20 stick flags from graves of Confederates.
      LOTS of investigations and planning avenues of responses by numerous groups and individuals are underway.
      Flags have already been replaced since the thefts, and vigilance and surveillance is now underway.

      OK, I get he doesn’t like the CBF. Fine. However, his dislike has crossed over way too many lines. Alabama does have laws protecting graves and memorials to veterans and such. He, like the other thieves may not be prosecuted, but in the end, societal mores are still against disturbing the dead

      • I guess there are a number of ways that this can be interpreted, including that past incidents do not seem to function as a deterrent. We shall see whether the individual is prosecuted along the lines you outline.

        Let me be clear that I don’t condone such an act. In fact, when I took my classes in Charlottesville, Virginia to a nearby Confederate cemetery we routinely took time to clean up trash and prop up any fallen grave site flags. What I find interesting is that the incident can take place at all and with minimal consequences.

        • The reason for the minimum consequences is that no only were the flags placed without permission, they were scheduled to be removed, but the city had not got around to it.

          What are the consequences for unauthorized removal of what is scheduled to be removed.

      • The mayor has said the flags were placed illegally and has set a deadline of Tuesday evening for their removal, or the city will remove them.

        http://www.wsfa.com/story/29080441/removal-of-confederate-flags-from-cemetery-sparks-controversy

        It appears the confederate heritage instead of history types are just interested in making an in-your-face statement to the 70+% black population that they don’t care what the law is, they’re going to display the symbol of racial oppression. Otherwise they would have gone through the proper procedure to get permission to put the flags up.

  4. Union Springs, AL is a tiny (4000 inhabitants), poor, mostly African-American (72%) town, according to the 2010 Census. Who is the provocateur – the outside group who placed the flags, which everyone in Alabama knows are enduring symbols of white supremacy, or the local man who picked them up?

  5. No this want blow over ! The Alabama Flaggers and our Mechanized Cavalry are on our way to stand up for our Heritage. Mr. Penn and his wife broke the law and such be held responsible. We are coming to support our Confederate dead whose blood ran red for what they believed., and for the soldier of the 26th Alabama who is being disrespected and desecrated daily. It’s not blowing over, take my word. Freda Mincey, Director, Alabama.

  6. always making excuses to say the confederate flag is heritage when you know it stood for oppression and hate what would you do if the Nazi flag was flying out in yards you would not like it you talk about a way of life what to keep slavery that is why you fought southern heritage my ass and why don’t you go snatch the flags from the kkk when they bring their thuggish behinds in small towns if your flags do not stand for racism go take their flags always a double standards same old crap blacks pay taxes just like whites we should have a say on a racist reminder being flown and on car tags we do not need reminders as to what this garbage flag stood for and still stands for stop trying to hide racism get rid of all elements of racism stop making excuses southern heritage my ass

  7. Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines who fought in the Civil war were made U.S. Veterans by an act of Congress in in 1957, U.S. Public Law 85-425, Sec 410, which was approved 23 May, 1958. This made all Confederate Veterans equal to U.S. Veterans.

    Before that, under U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by the 17th Congress on 26 Feb 1929 the War Department was directed to erect headstones and recognize Confederate grave sites as U.S. War dead grave sites. Just for the record the last Confederate veteran died in 1958. So, in essence, when you remove a Confederate statue, monument or headstone, you are in fact, removing a statue, monument or head stone of a U.S. VETERAN.” (a felony)

    • The 1958 legislation did not make Confederate veterans “U.S. Veterans.” It made Confederate veterans eligible for the same VA benefits as U.S. veterans of the war would receive, but it confers no other status or protection to them.

      I have no idea what that second bit of legislation is, that you give a date of 1929 for, yet the 17th U.S. Congress met in the early 1820s. You may want to check your sources before copying-and-pasting verbatim from other websites.

  8. The terms of the Confederate Surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War. Let me point out very clearly that this did not end Confederate heritage and honor. Nor should it. Let me remind all of you that these men who fought and died are Americans of not only white but color. They should be honored with respect under the flag they carried into battle. I live in Upstate NY, home of the socialist republic of Governor Andrew Cuomo and have no axe to grind with people of any color in the north or south. It’s time we get over the rhetoric and political correctness of the 21st century and move on. We are all Americans. Removing flags from Confederate graves does not change anything but dishonor the dead and their families. I am offended by Senator Penn’s actions. He should be ashamed of himself along with his family. Understanding the history of this country is understanding who you are. This is what makes America strong. Good, Bad or Indifferent!

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