Delaware town’s mayor says $25K grant to museum with Confederate flag ‘dead in the water’

Georgetown Town Council voted to allocate the money, but the museum filed its application after the April 1 deadline. The mayor says the flag should be taken down.

The Confederate flag and monument at the Marvel Carriage Museum. (WHYY file)

The Confederate flag and monument at the Marvel Carriage Museum. (WHYY file)

Just a few weeks ago, the southern Delaware municipality of Georgetown awarded a grant of nearly $25,000 to a museum that flies a Confederate flag next to a monument dedicated to its veterans of the Civil War.

Georgetown’s Town Council had authorized the money despite vehement opposition by Mayor Bill West and other foes who decried the flag and monument as symbols of racism, hate and division.

But now the grant is “dead in the water,” West told WHYY News on Wednesday.

Council had voted 4-0 on July 25, with West abstaining, to give $24,750 to the Georgetown Historical Society for repairs to its Marvel Carriage Museum. But Tuesday, on the day the mayor was to hand-deliver the check, he received a letter from Tom Irvine of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. Irvine asserted in the letter that the council approved the grant in violation of town law.

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That ordinance, enacted in 2007, requires grant applications to be submitted by April 1, and then evaluated by a variety of town officials before being submitted to the five-member council for approval.

Irvine’s letter had urged town leaders to review the action’s “compliance with the ordinance.”

West acknowledged that council did not follow either of those provisions in awarding the grant to the historical society, and said he interprets the alliance’s letter as a precursor to a lawsuit against the town should the check get delivered.

“We’re going to get sued if we do anything, if we give it to them,’’ West said, adding that the letter has been shared with his fellow council members, the town manager and city lawyer Stephani Ballard.

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“So we better withdraw from this because of the [likelihood of a] lawsuit,’’ West added. “It’s going to cost us more than the money that we’re going to have to give them. I’m hoping that the quiet thing is the best thing.”

Should the museum still want to request a town grant next year, they must apply by the April 1, 2023 deadline, West said.

Ballard told WHYY News she expects Town Council to revisit the issue during its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 22. She did not elaborate.

The museum began flying the Confederate flag and dedicated the 12-foot tall white granite monument in 2007, with then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, declaring a statewide Confederate History and Heritage Week to celebrate the installation.

The state continued to fund the Marvel museum through its Grant-In-Aid program for more than a decade, to the tune of about $14,400 annually, but that funding was cut in 2019 because of concerns about the flag and monument.

The historical society did not return calls Wednesday about the ongoing controversy and the alliance’s claims that the town didn’t follow the law.

But during the contentious two-hour meeting before the grant was approved, historical society president Jim Bowden said his group can’t take the flag down because of a 2007 agreement that allowed the Sons of Confederate Veterans to erect the monument and flag on the museum’s property.

After media reports about the town’s grant award and more calls for the flag to be taken down, the historical society’s board held an emergency meeting and released a statement saying the flag and memorial would remain in place.

West decried that decision in the town of 7,300, where 15% of the population is Black and 40% is Latino.

“They don’t see what that’s doing to the community,’’ the mayor said of the presence of the Confederate flag.

“I go to events and tell everybody we’re going to make this town number one because we’re all going to come together and work together. I can’t say that with that flag flying anymore.”

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