Southern Delaware town funds museum that continues to fly a Confederate flag

A Confederate monument has cost the Georgetown Historical Society its taxpayer-funded grant. (WHYY, file)

A Confederate monument has cost the Georgetown Historical Society its taxpayer-funded grant. (WHYY, file)

The Marvel Carriage Museum in Georgetown will get nearly $25,000 in funding from Georgetown Town Council despite its continued flying of the Confederate flag.

The Sussex County museum lost state funding in 2019 after more than a decade of flying the Confederate battle flag on museum property in Georgetown. The flag flies above the 12-foot tall Delaware Confederate monument which was created in 2007. The monument is on private land of the museum which is operated by the non-profit Georgetown Historical Society.

After nearly two hours of debate Monday night, Georgetown Town Council approved $24,750 to fund repairs at the museum, despite the Confederate flag’s continued display.

“That flag represents, to you, history,” said Asim Gulab, who said he’s lived in Sussex County for 42 years. “I tell you right now, that flag represents more than that now … It has transcended that. If you approve it, you’re going to be honoring something that’s not history any longer. Okay? You’re going to be actually, possibly, be honoring more hate.”

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He was joined by Joe Lawson of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, who said the museum’s monument to Confederate soldiers shames the more than hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Black and white, who fought for the Union and helped bring an end to slavery.

“You can’t celebrate that goodness when you got a flag that represents rape, torture, murder, human misery, killing people. And so, let’s honor the good in our country because we got a lot of good people. Take the flag down,” he said. “Those people are being dishonored by putting the flag up of the force that led to their deaths.”

The historical society’s president, Jim Bowden, said the group is unable to take the flag down because of their 2007 agreement that allowed the Sons of Confederate Veterans to erect the monument and flag on the museum’s property. “We do not have the ability with the agreement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to change that flag or lower the flag,” Bowden said.

When the monument was dedicated, then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner declared a statewide Confederate History and Heritage Week to celebrate. The state continued to fund the Marvel museum through its Grant-In-Aid program for more than a decade.

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Council Member Angela Townsend supported funding the museum. “Every time I see that flag and I’ve said it before and people call me wrong, it’s not a racist flag. It’s part of our history,” she said. “Perhaps Jim [Bowden] can work with the organization out there, maybe they will take the flag down, maybe they’ll get a smaller flag, lower it near the monument, so you really can’t see it.”

Council finally approved the funding which will allow the museum to pay for parking lot upgrades as well as new windows and flooring. They also added an addendum to their approval, calling for the historical society to come together with the community and the Sons of Confederate Veterans to reach an agreement on the display of the flag.

The decision to provide funds to the museum drew criticism from groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which condemned the town’s move. “Monuments and symbols honoring the treasonous, white supremacist Confederacy should not be displayed in public spaces and must not be maintained with public funds,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.

This disclosure: WHYY also receives money from the Grant-in-Aid program.

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