Georgetown votes to give Confederate flag-flying museum more than $24K

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The Georgetown Town Council voted Monday night to give $24,750 to the Georgetown Historical Society, a nonprofit that allows a Confederate flag to be flown on its property.

Councilwomen Angela Townsend made a motion to approve granting the funds, and the other council members all voted in favor of it. Mayor Bill West did not vote. Townsend’s motion stipulated "a committee would be formed to address the concerns,” but did not specify details.

The Georgetown Historical Society’s Marvel Museum, located at 510 S. Bedford St., is home to numerous buildings, a collection of antique carriages and items related to Georgetown’s history. The grounds and buildings are often used for events both public and private, as well. 

The Delaware Grays Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #2068 reached an agreement with the society in 2007, allowing them to install and maintain the flag and a monument to Delawareans who fought for the Confederacy.

A Confederate flag flies alongside a Delaware state flag at the monument to Delawareans who supported the Confederacy at the Marvel Museum in Georgetown.
A Confederate flag flies alongside a Delaware state flag at the monument to Delawareans who supported the Confederacy at the Marvel Museum in Georgetown.

It was only 15 years ago, but it was a decidedly different time, one in which then-governor Ruth Ann Minner celebrated the installation by declaring a statewide “Confederate History and Heritage Week.”

By 2017, the Lower Sussex NAACP was calling for the removal of the flag. In 2019, the state declined to provide funding to the Georgetown Historical Society because of the flag.

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This year, the historical society first asked Georgetown on July 11 for the money, for building and parking lot improvements. In Georgetown, a tie is a loss, so with Councilwoman Sue Barlow absent, and West and Councilwoman Christine Diaz Malone voting against the measure, council members Penuel Barrett and Angela Townsend’s votes in favor were defeated.

Townsend invited Georgetown Historical Society President Jim Bowden to come back and try again July 25.

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Every chair in the Sussex County seat’s town hall was filled for Monday night’s meeting. Town Manager Gene Dvornick read what he said were some 37 letters from people across the state and some from outside it. Many people called in or attended in-person to make their comments.

Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice steering committee member Joe Lawson was one of the latter.

“It’s great to have a historical society, but the flag does not represent history in the way it’s positioned. The flag represents … the enslavement of 4 million Americans,” he said.

Following public comments, West made a motion to table the matter and workshop it, which was seconded by Diaz Malone, however, the remaining council members voted against it. Townsend made her motion after more discussion.

“It’s not a racist flag. It’s part of our history,” Townsend said. “To me, I’m doing what's right. The Marvel Museum has always helped the town and now they need our help.”

Barrett pointed out the town has often taken advantage of the Marvel Museum, to hold events such as concerts, debates and church services during pandemic lockdowns.

“The funding needs to go there because they’re here to help the town. No matter what it is, they don’t say 'no,' ” Barrett said.

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After the meeting, Bowden said it would take “a whole bunch of lawyers” to remove the flag and monument due to their “agreement” with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. When asked if The News Journal/Delaware Online could view the agreement, he said he didn’t know where it was but would look for it.

If any Sons of Confederate Veterans members at the meeting, they did not identify themselves as such. The News Journal/Delaware Online has requested the agreement from Jeff Plummer, camp commander.

Shannon Marvel McNaught reports on Sussex County and beyond. Reach her at smcnaught@gannett.com or on Twitter at @marvelmcnaught.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Georgetown votes to give Confederate flag-flying museum over $24K