Confederate flags at ES Cemetery continue to stir controversy
By Haley Schichtl
Eureka Springs City Council member Harry Meyer and community member Kathy Attwood appeared at the Eureka Springs Cemetery Commission's regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 12, to voice their opinion on the cemetery allowing the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to place Confederate flags on each of the 41 Confederate veterans' graves in the Eureka Springs Cemetery.
The commission did not make any changes to its current rules, but added the subject to next month's meeting agenda for further discussion.
Meyer showed the commission a petition with nearly 100 signatures from other Eureka Springs residents who disagree with allowing the SCV to place the flags.
"This organization is not historical. Their purpose is political," Meyer said. "They wish to promote the 'lost cause' narrative about the Civil War."
Meyer said the "lost cause" narrative claims the war either was not predominantly about slavery, or that slavery wasn't so bad, and portrays Confederate veterans as heroes.
"They're politicizing our cemetery," Meyer said. "And we have former slaves buried there."
The cemetery commission recently passed a rule stating that if family members of Confederate veterans do not want the flag on their relative's grave, they must come forward and say so —otherwise, the SCV will automatically place it there.
"One cannot assume they were in favor of the cause since many were pressed into service without their consent. The Confederacy drafted more men than the Union," Meyer said. "Even if they had volunteered, their attitude toward the cause may have changed before their deaths. Why should we allow someone who is not related to those buried here to decide what is placed upon their graves?"
Meyer also mentioned that because these men died 100 or more years ago, it is likely that family members are no longer around to protest it, so there's no way to know whether they want the flag there or not.
"This controversial symbol, which represents hate and oppression, is protected by the First Amendment," Meyer said. "However, it does not protect those who place it upon someone else's property."
Attwood said the flag’s symbolism has changed over the years.
"After the Civil War, the Confederate flags pretty much disappeared. The war was over; the South lost," Attwood said. "In the '50s, it came back and was carried by people who opposed the Civil Rights Movement. This includes the KKK and white supremacists."
Having these flags in the cemetery makes the community look foolish to outsiders visiting the cemetery, Attwood said. She said that the SCV seeks to distort history, not preserve it.
Members of the cemetery commission disagreed with the sentiments expressed by Meyer and Attwood.
Commissioner Bruce Wright said if the commission did not allow the Confederate flags to be put out, it would have to stop allowing the placement of all flags, including American flags.
"There's 4,600 burials, and 41 Confederates; that's less than 1 percent," Wright said.
"Some people are using this flag as a way to preserve history," said commissioner Roderick Beattie.
Commission chair Susan Tharp said she would be willing to compromise by only allowing the flags to be put out on holidays, such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, rather than all year round.
"This town is known for its diversity and being accepting of everybody," Tharp said. "I think it's better that we're being open to everyone."
Wright then pulled up and read the definition of diversity.
"It means understanding each individual is unique," Wright said. "These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs and other ideologies."
The cemetery commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9 in The Auditorium.