For years, David Crook had been making monthly rounds past the Confederate Memorial on the lawn of the historic courthouse and tucking a tiny flag into the ground at its base. And for years, an anonymous person who felt the flag carried negative symbolism had been pulling them up.
“They kept disappearing,” said Thomas Shepard, whose own ancestors fought for the South. “So we kept replacing them.”
The flag tug-of-war gradually ramped up, with a new one being put down and pulled up almost daily.
The county was forced to wade into the fray in June, when a local attorney complained about the tiny flag display and asked the county to intervene.
“Personally, I have been more than uncomfortable with the flag’s presence on government property,” Waynesville Attorney Bob Clark wrote in an email to county commissioners. “Will you please take action, quietly and effectively, to stop the display of this divisive symbol?”
If the county won’t step in and stop the tiny flags from cropping up, then perhaps the commissioners should issue a public statement that they “support the flying of this symbol,” Clark suggested.
County Manager Marty Stamey talked the issue over informally with commissioners, and the next morning directed county maintenance workers to pull up the flags whenever they saw them. Stamey sent county maintenance workers an email asking them to keep an eye on the monument a couple of times during the day to monitor for the flag’s reappearance.
“Am I understanding correctly that you are requesting the Confederate Flag to be removed and not ever be placed back in front of the Confederate Monument?” County Maintenance Director Dale Burris wrote back to Stamey.
“It is a sensitive issue with government property as you are aware,” Stamey wrote back to Burris. “Maybe we can request that they just keep a nice wreath in front of the memorial instead.”
Burris decided to keep any flags he pulled up from the monument in the maintenance office in case someone came looking for them. But no sooner had he walked outside to do the deed than one of the Confederate supporters, Jule Morrow, happened to drive by and see him pull it up. Morrow confronted Burris, and Burris replied that he was only doing what he had been told by county officials.
Confederate supporters questioned why their flag is being pulled up from the lawn, while tiny American flags stuck at the base of other war memorials in front of the historic courthouse are allowed to stay.
David Teague, Haywood County public information officer, said part of the problem is outside groups placing any kind of decoration on county property without permission.
The county had been working on a compromise with some of the Confederate supporters, Teague said.
One Confederate group, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, urged local Confederate supporters not to cause a ruckus.
“The best thing to do in this case is not to replace the flag you are using and let the matter die a natural death,” wrote Aileen Ezell, president of the N.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “We gain nothing by fighting this. It is amazing to me that such a small flag has caught so much attention.”
Some of the local Confederate supporters in Haywood County have decided to go to the mat over the tiny flags after all, however. Several of them staged a protest outside the courthouse this week, and have pledged to appear before the county commissioners at the next county meeting and lobby permission to put their flag back out.
“This flag is often associated with hate rather than heritage and honor,” Shepard said. But, that’s not the case, he said.