Flag, memorial stir emotions in Georgetown

September 30, 2022

The Cape Gazette's dedication to coverage of the Cape Region would normally prevent us from weighing in on Georgetown-specific issues. This particular matter has expanded to the county level, with questions and concerns being raised by residents and politicians countywide.

A dark cloud hangs over the Town of Georgetown. As improbable as it seems, town officials and residents are embroiled in a controversy with roots dating to the Civil War and the Confederacy.

Town council recently awarded a $24,750 grant to Georgetown Historical Society for projects at its Marvel Carriage Museum. The large complex of historic buildings and exhibits also contains a Confederate memorial with Confederate and Delaware state flags flying over it. They have been in place since 2007.

The Confederate flag has become a lightning rod, with groups and individuals asking for its removal. They claim it is a symbol of violence and white supremacy, and point to a nationwide movement to remove Confederate symbols from public view.

Others say the flag should remain as a reminder of the area's history and dispute claims the flag is racist.

Groups such as the NAACP are demanding that Georgetown officials rescind the grant and provide no further funding for the society as long as the flag remains. Sussex County Democrats say they will not ride in carriages from the museum during this year's Return Day celebration.

Also in question is a $2,000 grant issued by Sussex County Council. Councilman Mark Schaeffer has asked that the money be returned.

The issue came to the forefront again during a Sept. 26 town council meeting when another vote was taken. It was required because Delaware’s attorney general ruled that three council members violated the Freedom of Information Act by issuing a check to the society outside a public meeting.

Those three council members voted in favor of the donation again knowing the town would be sued, resulting in untold legal fees borne by Georgetown taxpayers.

Testimony during the meeting included remarks reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement rhetoric in the 1960s. The three council members were called racists and were told they would be removed from office. Those council members claim they were doing what their constituents wanted.

NAACP members said they would do everything in their power to start a boycott of Georgetown, staying “in their faces” until changes were made.

This is not the image anyone wants for this small town known for its history as the county seat.

Is there a way for everyone to gain at least a small measure of sanity? A compromise has been proposed that the flag be taken down and included in an indoor exhibit.

It seems a reasonable accommodation, but it doesn't appear the three council members will back down. The Town of Georgetown and the historical society now have black eyes that have hurt their reputations, with further repercussions possible in the future.

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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