Confederate monument at Marvel Museum: Lawmakers won’t act on NAACP’s request

GEORGETOWN – Two state legislators from Georgetown say they will not seek stoppage of state grant-in-aid funding for the Georgetown Historical Society as sought by the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter over the Delaware Confederate Monument located on the society’s Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum grounds.

“We’re not going to move on that request,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. “This is a museum. The rallying cries across the country have been these don’t belong in public places; they belong in museums. Well, this is a museum.”

“I do not support the removal of a historical document, monument or display from private property,” said State Rep. Ruth Briggs King.

The NAACP’s request comes amid intensified efforts across America to remove monuments and symbols of the Confederacy from public places.

Wednesday, in a press release, Lower Sussex NAACP president Louis Henry called on “Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, who represent Georgetown in the General Assembly to immediately call on the Controller General’s Office to halt its payment of $11,500 in grant-in-aid money to the Georgetown Historical Society until it removes the Delaware Confederate Monument from its grounds.”

“We certainly believe in a private organization’s Constitutional right to free speech – even speech that serves to demean and taunt persons of color, many of whom are descendants of the very slaves the Confederacy fought against the United States to keep,” the NAACP release states. “But we were shocked and dismayed to learn that taxpayer dollars are in subsidizing that message and that must end immediately.”

Jim Bowden, president of the Georgetown Historical Society that owns and operates the Marvel Museum, said that is incorrect.

Grant-in-aid money the historical society receives has never been used for the monument, which Mr. Bowden notes was paid for and is maintained by the Delaware Grays Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“None of the funds have ever been used for anything for the monument,” said Mr. Bowden. “That has always been the SCV. They raised the funds. Basically, we are letting them use that section of property to put the monument on. The monument and the flags actually belong to the SCV. We just have partnered by allowing them to put that on that piece of land.”

Unveiled in May 2007 the monument includes Delaware statesmen who resided in Delaware prior to the War Between the States or those that fought or gave aid to the Confederate States of America. Twelve feet tall with a 16-foot base, the monument includes names, rank, unit and original place of residence within Delaware, if known, of soldiers.

“These are Delaware people. They have researched this,” said Mr. Bowden. “So, we thought that that was a good fit for history, because it was Delawareans.”

Pictured at the Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum grounds is the Delaware Confederate monument, purchased and maintained by the Delaware Grays Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Two flags-  Confederate and state of Delaware – are on poles at the monument site, located behind the old school house on the Marvel Museum grounds on South Bedford Street.

“As the specter of white nationalist terrorism grows across America – from the Charleston church shooting to the Portland train stabbing to last weekend’s murderous rampage in Charlottesville – it has become increasingly clear that this country’s Confederate monuments are no longer testaments to the past, but idols of white nationalist future.,” the NAACP’s release states. “When these structures – and the Confederate flag that so often waves alongside them – become a rallying point for Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, they exist only as a divisive threat to the greatness of America as the most inclusive and diverse country on earth.”

“While we give credit to the Delaware lawmakers who joined together to denounce the hate and violence of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, we cannot help but feel like more action is required by our local officials to offer the clear delineation between right and wrong that our President seems unable to acknowledge,” the press release states.

“It’s just part of the Sussex County history,” said Mr. Bowden. “As part of our mission we are supposed interpret the history of our area. Preserve, protect and interpret is what our mission is. I think we do a fairly good job in interpreting what happened with the different people that went south and why they went south.”

Mr. Bowden emphasized no grant monies have been used for the Confederate monument.

“We use ours basically to pay the electric bill for the complex. Of course, the monument has no electric to it,” said Mr. Bowden. “It was solely funded by the SCV. It is owned by the SCV. It is not owned by the Marvel Museum. We allow them to be on that part of the property.”

“This is on private property. It’s not in front of the museum. It was a historic marker placed there with private funds. Another group raised money to place it there,” said Rep. Briggs King.

“it seems that taking these out of the public square is not good enough. They want to completely erase the history,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “That is something I will never support. We need to be remembering history, whether it is good, bad or otherwise. We need to keep these monuments up so that inquisitive minds can ask the questions: what happened, why did it happen and what can we do to prevent these things from happening again?”

“When you start removing the reminders of what happened in the past, you stop asking these critical questions,” Sen. Pettyjohn added.

“I think that learning from our history, learning about our history helps us to move forward to where we are today. There certainly are many mistakes in the past of this nation and this world,” said Rep. Briggs King. “I think the museum itself does things very well and very tastefully, and they are depicting both elements that caused the Civil War. It was a difference of opinion, a war because of that and then look what happened as a result of that; and what prevailed.”

“I just feel that you cannot erase history. You don’t see the swastika a lot but I’m sure if I went to some German museums it would be there,” said Rep. Briggs King.

There is concern about repercussions.

“I think it is a slippery slope when I look at organizations receiving grant in aid,” she said. “What would be next? There are many churches and religious organizations that receive money through grant in aid for the good work they do in the community. Would they have to remove crosses or any religious reference because it might be offensive to some people?”

Rep. Briggs King said she encourages dialogue.

“I understand the concern, and I wish we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about it and maybe even for the two groups, the NAACP to sit down with the Historical Society … and talk about these things in a manner where there might be some good open discussion and dialogue,” said Rep. Briggs King. “When we talk about tolerance and understanding, there needs to be more dialogue and less branding or labeling. I wish we could get away from the labeling.”

“You just worry about the monument now with what has happened everywhere else,” said Mr. Bowden.

Added Rep. Briggs King: “The Historical Society adds great value to our community and the $11,500 they receive in grant-in-aid funding is used to educate and memorialize our town and our county’s rich history. The Historical Society permitted the use of the property for the display; however, they have not used any public or association funds toward the display. We, as lawmakers, are not in the business of rewriting historical facts, including those we may not necessarily agree with; moreover, we should learn from them.  If we prohibit the Georgetown Historical Society from educating the public on the events that shaped our country and state then what message are we sending as Americans?  We cannot – and should not – rewrite history, nor can we deny the past.  Let us learn from the mistakes of the past, and address concerns and issues in a deliberate process. “

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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