Councilman removes Confederate flags from graves
Auburn City Councilman Arthur L. Dowdell poses with Confederate flags that he removed from graves at Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
Published: April 23, 2009
Mary Norman was shocked Thursday afternoon when Auburn Councilman Arthur L. Dowdell pulled up a Confederate flag placed on her great-grandfather’s grave and snapped it in half, she said.
Dowdell, who denies snapping the flag, said Thursday he was picking up his daughter from Auburn Junior High School near the cemetery when several people told him they “had a problem” with the flags.
He drove to the cemetery and started pulling up flags, he said.
“It’s offensive to me,” he said. “To me, it represents the Ku Klux Klan and racism.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy placed the flags earlier this week, as they have done for 50 years, in preparation for a celebration Sunday of Confederate Memorial Day, Norman said.
Confederate Memorial Day will be celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama Monday.
“I really didn’t know exactly how to respond to him,” she said. “I happen to be a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. I was very surprised, especially (as he is) a city councilman. I was amazed.”
Norman was not personally involved in placing the flags.
“I’m a historian,” she said. “We’re not about hate, we’re not about anything like that. We just want to honor our state’s rights, and I’ve got Confederate ancestors, and I feel we should have the ability to do that.”
Norman and a friend were taking inventory of graves at Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn when Dowdell drove up and asked who put up the flags, she said.
“One of the flags had been placed on my great-grandfather’s grave, who was a Confederate soldier,” Norman said. “He just got very upset, and he went over to my great-grandfather’s grave, picked up the flag and broke it in two.”
She said Dowdell did not know the plot she stood on was her family’s. The flags were placed on soldiers’ graves as a mark of respect, she said.
He pulled up Confederate flags from other soldiers’ graves, too, she said.
Dowdell said in his years as councilman, he had never seen so many Confederate flags in one place.
“I’m going on the record that this will never happen again,” Dowdell said. “This will never happen again as long as I’m on the city council.”
Dowdell denied intentionally snapping the flag.
“It might have snapped itself,” he said. “If it did, so what? If I had my way, I would have broke them all up and stomped on them and burned them. That flag represents another country, another nation.”
Auburn Mayor Bill Ham said he was unaware of any incidents at the cemetery but said he talked with Dowdell Thursday afternoon. Ham said his understanding was that all city cemeteries have covenants governing how and what types of decorations can be placed on graves, except for Pine Hill because it is so old. Ham said he believed Dowdell asked an assistant city manager to look into making policies equal for cemeteries across the city.
“The bottom line is those grave plots are deeded property,” Ham said. “We sell those. So they are sold to the family of the individuals, and I think (plot owners) have a right to do exactly what they did, according to the city attorney.”
Ham said in his conversation with Dowdell, the councilman suggested the flags be placed on the graves for a shorter period of time, perhaps for 24 hours before the event.
For now, the remaining flags will stay on the graves because of the lack of covenant governing Pine Hill, Ham said. But that could change in coming years.
“I certainly think we need to be consistent in all the cemeteries with whatever the policy is, not only with this, but with everything,” Ham said. “The council has got to make that decision.”