District 3 Sussex County Councilman Mark Schaeffer of Lewes is questioning a recent councilmanic grant to the Georgetown Historical Society.
During council's July 26 meeting, Schaeffer said he was not aware of the Confederate veterans memorial and flag flying at the society's Marvel Museum on South Bedford Street.
On June 21, council unanimously approved a $2,000 councilmanic grant to help with the cost of a heating and air conditioning system for the new Western Auto and train museum at the complex. Council has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in grants to the society over the past decade.
Schaeffer said when Councilman John Rieley made the motion for the grant, he didn't disclose the fact that a Confederate flag was flying at the museum. He said as soon as he learned about the flag, he pushed to have the grant rescinded. “The museum is in Rieley's district and I haven't been there in 20 years,” he said.
“This display has no historical value or intent as a museum exhibit. It is being flown in celebration of the treasonous and racist Confederate movement,” Schaeffer said. “It needs to come down immediately and the taxpayers’ money needs to be returned. If you fly a Confederate flag, then I am of the belief that your intent is to proclaim that you are a racist, and in fact, you are a racist.”
At Schaeffer's request, the matter has been placed on council's Tuesday, Aug. 9 agenda. “We need to ask for the money back,” he said.
Town approves funding
The action comes after a contentious July 25 meeting where Georgetown Town Council voted to grant the society $24,750 for repairs and upkeep for various buildings and exhibits at the museum. Mayor Bill West, who opposed the grant, said it's now time to form a committee to discuss the future of the memorial and flag.
Georgetown Historical Society President Jim Bowden said the display cannot be moved inside because of an agreement between the society and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans that dates back to 2007.
Because of the memorial, state officials removed the society from its grants-in-aid program in 2019 after the society received grants for more than a decade. West said the society is losing out on federal and state funding.
Memorial dates back to 2007
The flag and memorial were unveiled March 12, 2007, by the Delaware Grays, Sons of the Confederate Veterans Camp 2068 based in Seaford, following an agreement reached with the historical society. Then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner declared a statewide Confederate History and Heritage Week to celebrate the event.
The memorial contains the names of soldiers from Delaware who joined Southern armies during the Civil War. The group estimates at least 2,000 Delawareans fought for the South even though Delaware remained part of the Union.
Alliance: Society must change
In an Aug. 2 email to Sussex County Council, Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice History Committee Chair Tom Irvine commended Schaeffer for his stand.
“Glorification of the few Delawareans who fought against the United States, and whose names and symbols now represent racism, intolerance and hate is improper, but must be remembered in a properly curated museum setting,” he wrote.
The alliance opposed the town's plan to provide funding for the society, as long as it hosts a Confederate memorial and flag.
“The historical society must not receive any public funds if it continues to glorify the enslavement of human beings by, among other things, hosting a memorial to the un-Americans who fought for the Confederacy and flying the Confederate battle flag on its grounds,” Irvine wrote in a letter to Georgetown council. “The alliance wants and encourages remembering the history of enslavement and the Civil War, properly curated to demonstrate and convey its evil and un-American, un-constitutional conduct of many.”
Irvine said if the historical society is to survive financially, it must change.
He said the alliance is committed to working with county, town and historical society officials to “cure the error made in 2007 and move the historical society forward.”
See a story about the monument's background and unveiling at descv.org/CS.html.