8 May 2009
I am sure that by now you have all heard of the Heritage Violation that happened on the 23rd of April at Pine Hill Cemetery located in Auburn, Alabama. On this day, Auburn City Councilman Arthur Dowdell entered the cemetery and stole four Confederate "Memorial" flags (reportedly) from the graves of Confederate Veterans. These flags had been placed by the Semmes Chapter of the UDC in Auburn in preparation for their upcoming Memorial service the following Sunday. This act of lawlessness was witnessed by a local historian and UDC member Mrs. Mary Norman. There were many reports of this incident in the local news and across the AP.
The City Council in Auburn held their regular meeting on Tuesday the 5th of May at 7pm. The Army of Tennessee and Alabama Division were very well represented at this council meeting. Present were myself, AoT Commander Kelly Barrow, AoT Councilman and Division 1st Lt. Commander Tom Strain, SEC Brigade Commander Larry Warren, SWC Brigade Commander Joe Clark, NWC Brigade Commander Allan Koester, Past Division Commanders Wilson and Simmons, Tallassee Camp Commander Randall Hughey, Auburn Camp Commander Jerry Purcel, Florida Division 1st Lt Commander Bob Hurst and forty plus fellow SCV members. The evening began with the opening of the meeting room, where we occupied the front row and most of the center section of the seating.
The Mayor then made a statement. In it he said: "Let me be clear, the issue here is not about race, the symbolism of the flag, or the City's cemetery policies; it is about the removal of private property from a private grave." He further stated "I want to assure the Daughter's that I will not support any Council action limiting anyone's right to honor their loved ones by placing flags on a grave."
They then altered the agenda to allow them to bring forward a resolution concerning Dowdell's actions.
Councilman Bob Norman issued the following statement and resolution:
"Statement: By his own admission, Councilman Arthur Dowdell entered Pine Hill Cemetery on April 23rd and removed confederate flags from private burial plots. He was quoted as saying "This will never happen again as long as I'm on the city council."
This is a passionate issue. There is no doubt that Mr. Dowdell is offended by the battle flag of the confederacy, and the appropriateness of its use is open to debate. The way councilman Dowdell chose to enter the debate is inappropriate and beneath the office of city councilman. His actions were inexcusable and have done nothing to help people on either side of this issue find common ground. They have stirred up old hatreds and created embarrassment and controversy for the city he represents.
The Bottom line is that those graves are private property, the placing of flags as memorials are expressions of free speech and Mr. Dowdell had no right to remove them. The fact that Mr. Dowdell invoked his position as a city councilman demands that the city council speak to the issue. Therefore the following is offered as a resolution by the Auburn city council:
Whereas, by his own admission, Councilman Arthur Dowdell entered Pine Hill Cemetery on April 23rd and removed confederate flags from private burial plots; and
Whereas, Councilman Dowdell invoked his position as a city councilman by saying "This will never happen again as long as I'm on the city council;" and
Whereas, the foregoing action was inappropriate and beneath the office of a city councilman;
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Auburn City Council condemns the actions taken by the Councilman Dowdell, and urges him to make a public apology to the citizens of Auburn, and to pledge that henceforth he will respect the private property and free speech rights of all citizens."
This Resolution passed with one vote against by Dowdell.
The Council then opened the floor for comment from Auburn citizens. A slight majority of these were those brought in by Dowdell, and they were in favor of him. There were also a number of citizens who took strong exception to his actions. The floor was then opened for speakers from outside Auburn to speak. Randall Hughey was the first on our desired lineup, and he did an excellent job. Auburn Camp Commander Jerry Purcel (who lives outside the city limits) was next and did a fine job as well. The selection was not by sign up, but by recognition from the Mayor. Good points were made by a number of speakers and those opposed to Dowdell were the vast majority of those given.
When it became evident that almost everyone present would be coming up to the microphone, it was decided that the public comments would be saved until the end of the meeting.
The regular business of the Council was covered in a very few minutes and we returned to public comment. Just over half of the comments were given in this second session. To the council's credit they patiently listened to the comments being made and gave everyone a chance to speak.
After the public comments session, Dowdell gave his statement in which he publicly apologized to the UDC and the SCV. He excused his actions due to "ignorancy" on his part, and noted that he contacted the City Manager and Mayor about the flags and that they did not know anything about them. He said the Mayor did know there was a program planned for Sunday.
Dowdell's claims of ignorance appeared to be very well founded, though I will certainly not attest to his sense of honesty. The issue here though is that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for lawless behavior.
As a closing comment, Councilman Robin Kelley was visibly shaken when he stated that Dowdell "Broke the law, and desecrated graves, end of discussion" in the removal of the flags. He further chastised Dowdell for not calling him, since it was in his ward. He explained that he lived near the cemetery and knew exactly what the flags were for. Kelley stated that Dowdell would be highly unappreciative of his taking action in Dowdell's ward without first informing Dowdell. Kelley then called for the meeting to adjourn.
In the end what we got was:
1. A statement by the Mayor that Dowdell removed private property from private grave plots.
2. A statement by the Mayor that he "will not supp ort any Council action limiting anyone's right to honor their loved ones by placing flags on a grave."
3. A statement by Councilman Bob Norman and the city council that Dowdell removed (stole) private property and did so as a city councilman.
4. A Resolution that the City Council condemned the actions taken by Dowdell and urged him to make an apology.
5. An apology from Dowdell to the UDC and the SCV.
6. A statement from Councilman Kelly that Dowdell "Broke the law, and desecrated graves, end of discussion".
At this point Dowdell appears as he is, an ignorant self righteous and self serving thug who took the law into his own hands, and has been thoroughly chastised by us and the City Council.
Compatriots, there is no way for the Alabama Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans to pursue a criminal suit against Councilman Dowdell because we do not have a witness willing to step forward to sign the arrest warrant and that no one has produced a list of the graves that were vandalized. We are unable to proceed any further in this case. It is also very clear that if we push this issue, we will possibly turn Councilman Dowdell into a martyr, and gentlemen this is exactly what he wants and needs at this point.
In closing, this is clearly a victory for the Army of Tennessee and Alabama Division. We went to Auburn, showed up in numbers, represented the Division and SCV in a very honorable fashion, and left knowing that the City Council and Mayor's office are clearly upset with Councilman Dowdell's actions. I would like to personally thank all of those involved who assisted the Alabama Division by following the Charge as set forth by General S.D. Lee to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1906.
Robert C. Reames
Alabama Division Commander
Sons of Confederate Veterans