Thursday, June 11, 2009

Battleflag to be Raised in Texas

Plan to honor Confederate dead at cemetery near Robinson draws praise from some, apprehension from others

By Wendy Gragg
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Sunday, June 07, 2009

At Fletcher Cemetery on Highway 77, the breeze blows unfettered across the top of the cemetery hill, the chinaberry trees offer just a hint of shade and a Union soldier lies peacefully among at least 15 Confederate veterans. Not everyone in the Robinson area knows about the historic spot, but those who do — relatives and others with reason to be reverent of the cemetery’s denizens — feel proud and protective of the overgrown plots. Some proud enough to want to raise a Confederate flag at the cemetery gates. Some protective enough to worry what the implication of flying the Stars and Bars might be.

Roland Duty proudly tells the history of his ancestor William Henry Duty, who fought in the Civil War and now rests in Fletcher Cemetery on Highway 77. Duty is looking forward to hoisting the Confederate flag in his relative's honor.

Sue Baker has many relatives buried in Fletcher Cemetery, including her great-great-grandfather, who was a Union soldier. She worries about the attention that the Confederate flag may bring the cemetery.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning to raise the American, Texas and Confederate flags at a ceremony next Friday, helping to kick off their state conference in Waco next weekend at the Hilton. “We’re remembering those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, to defend that flag,” said Charles Oliver, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. For Oliver, the Confederate flag itself isn’t the problem. He said the problem is that so many people don’t know the basic history of that particular flag. “It was a soldier’s flag,” Oliver said. As Oliver describes it, the Stars and Bars is a battle flag, which Confederate soldiers carried into battle and rallied around.

Oliver is well aware of the controversy that follows the flag. But he looks at it from an historical viewpoint, rather than a political one. He recognizes that he and his Civil War ancestors may have even seen the flag differently. His ancestor may have had 20 slaves, but that is something that the ancestor will have to answer to God for, Oliver said.

Oliver and other members have joined Robinson community members who are trying to form a Fletcher Cemetery Association to ensure better upkeep of the historical site. Sisters Joyce Farar and Sue Baker also are concerned about the future of the cemetery, where generations of their family rest. They find themselves in an interesting position where the flag is concerned. Their great-great-grandfather, Robert Franklin Wooley, is the only Union soldier buried at Fletcher. Wooley had friends who were from Texas, so after the war, he took a trek to check out the area.
“He told my great-great-grandmother to sell their farm, and she used the money to fund their move to Texas,” Farar said. “He loved it when he got here. Apparently, that was a popular thing. Texas must have looked like the promised land.”

Farar and Baker’s “blue” blood, however, does not make them naturally opposed to the flag. The sisters simply find themselves on either side of whether the flag should fly at Fletcher. Farar said she, along with most of the other people at the last meeting of those trying to start a cemetery association, didn’t personally have a problem with the Confederate flag being raised along with the state and American flag at the cemetery.

Baker said she understands why the Sons of Confederate Veterans want to raise the flag, but she’s wary of the controversy that she thinks it will invite. “The climate in the U.S. right now is rocky, and a lot of groups use the Confederate flag to hide behind,” she said, side-stepping clumps of bull nettle and stinging nettle as she made her way to just one of her family plots at the top of the cemetery hill. “I think it could cause controversy, and that’s not what I’m looking for for the cemetery.”

The president of the McLennan County NAACP did not comment on the issue.

Cindy Moseley, president of the Robinson Chamber of Commerce, has no personal stake in Fletcher Cemetery, but she still finds herself conflicted about the flag’s placement on Highway 77. “Personally, I welcome anyone’s right to honor the past and history and honor individuals who made sacrifices for what they believe in,” she said. She also welcomes the interest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in helping to maintain the historic resting place. Robinson is growing, she said, with a lot of new businesses, and a wider awareness of the history of the area could be a good thing. Her concern, she said, is in the way people who are just driving by will interpret the flying of that flag.

Fletcher Cemetery lies along a sparse stretch of Highway 77, just a couple of miles south of Moonlight Drive. Blink and you’ll miss it, despite the old cemetery gates and the historical marker. But an impressive cluster of flagpoles, tall enough to be seen a mile away, on the lower slope of Fletcher Cemetery’s hill, may draw the old resting place quite a bit of attention.
“My hope would be folks don’t rush to judgement without understanding,” she said. “The issue probably does come down to someone driving by, seeing that for a second and making a judgment which has nothing to do with the person lying dead in that cemetery.”

Robinson Mayor Brian Ferguson didn’t know of the plans for the Confederate flag to go up along the highway. He said he had no problem with it being used to honor fallen Confederate soldiers if it was going to be up temporarily. But if the flag is up permanently, he said, he can’t help but wonder what people passing through Robinson are going to think about his town when they see the flag. He supposes the city will deal with any problems regarding the flag as they arise, he said.

Roland Duty seems annoyed by the flak that the Confederate flag takes.
“The controversy is from the uninformed citizen,” he said. As a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he’s looking forward to the flag raising. “Yee-haw!” he said, tromping through hip-high weeds, up to a large and impressive tombstone for William Henry Duty, who died in 1876. The stone marks the resting spot of Roland Duty’s great-great grandfather, who moved to Central Texas from Tennessee after fighting in the Civil War. Duty overflows with pride and the stories of his heritage.

Duty’s grandmother’s grandfather, William Benjamin Stovall, had no slaves but fought for the Confederacy in Vicksburg, Duty said. “He was just fighting for his beliefs, not being told what to do by a central government,” he said. Duty said he is a fan of the Bonnie Blue flag, a single white star in the middle of a solid blue field. The Bonnie Blue was used in some parts of the south during the Civil War, but it does not seem to carry the same negative connotations as the Stars and Bars.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans also fly a Confederate flag in Oakwood Cemetery, over the graves of Jerome and Felix Robertson, father and son brigadier generals for the Confederacy. Oakwood Superintendent David Evans said he has never had any complaints about the flag.
“Because people see the context it’s flown in, they understand,” Evans said. “We have so many Civil War soldiers. There are still individuals today that come out to see these sights and pay their respects.”

Oliver said he expects to hear grumbling about the flag flying on Highway 77. For some, the concern is more about perception and image. “Probably, there will be a lot of people who won’t even pay attention, but I think it could reflect not well on Robinson. Someone driving through, saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s a redneck community,’ ” Baker said.