Letter to the Editor: Sussex group addresses proposed next steps for Confederate memorial

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Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to the Georgetown mayor and Town Council on July 30.

The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice (“the alliance”) is disappointed that funding for the Georgetown Historical Society was approved. This letter addresses the next steps the town has pledged to take concerning the Confederate memorial/flag issue.

Finances are key

Councilmember Christina Diaz-Malone got it 100% right when she said it is about money and that the historical society would have a lot more money if the Confederate monument/flag were brought inside into a museum setting with proper curation.

The state has refused to fund the historical society because of the Confederate monument/flag. The governor of Delaware opposes the monument/flag. The historical society gets no rent that we know of for “hosting” the divisive memorial/flag, which was provided and apparently owned/maintained by others.

Financial peril: Can historical society remain a going concern?

Shockingly, the 2020 historical society filings (period ended June 30, meaning only the initial months of COVID-19 impact the numbers) report only $62,755 of total revenue, with $62,723 of total functional expenses! Total revenue in 2019, the year the state denied funding, was $98,507 — a 36% decrease in revenue in one year. Information for 2021-22 must be obtained.

The town gave the historical society $24,000 which, as far as we can determine, was not revealed as a nearly 40% increase in its 2020 budget/expenditures. That indicates severe financial stress.

How can the historical society remain as a going concern, unless it can raise significantly more money, unlikely without changes?

Richmond, Virginia, is experiencing a renaissance after it placed most of its Confederate “memorials” into properly curated museum settings. Georgetown and Sussex County should follow that example.

Example of proper curation of memorial/flag when moved into museum setting

What might proper curation look like?

First, it would not ignore those Delawareans who fought against their country; it would add context and explanation.

Second, this is a very brief draft of what might be said:

The memorial contains the names of Delawareans who left Delaware for other states to enlist in the Confederate army. Delaware was the only one of the four “slave” states that remained in the United States unable to field a regiment or militia of its citizens to fight against the United States.

The plaque placed next to the memorial/flag in its former outdoor location said as few as 300 Delawareans may have fought for the Confederacy; many sources suggest it may have been about 2,000.

At the time of the Civil War, Delaware had a population of 110,418, which included about 20,000 free African Americans. An additional 1,798 Delawareans were enslaved.

There were 11,236 White soldiers from Delaware who fought for the Union in the Civil War, plus 94 sailors and Marines. An additional 954 Black soldiers from the First State have been identified as having fought for their country against the Confederacy, with estimates ranging as high as 1,500. Casualties of killed and wounded were high.

More than 10% of the population of Delaware fought for the United States in the Civil War. Recall that only men fought.

Nearby exhibits provide additional information about the First State’s involvement in the Civil War. At various times during the Civil War, 33,000 Confederate prisoners of war were held at the Delaware prison camp on Pea Patch Island, known as Fort Delaware. Delaware’s DuPont Co. was a key supplier to the United States military. Many Delawareans were active participants in the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman, a Delmarva native, became the first woman to lead American troops into battle during the Civil War.

Three Delawareans received the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor, for their heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg, three of the 63 Medals of Honor awarded for that major battle. The First State more than carried its weight during that terrible war.

The actions of the few Delawareans who fought against the United States can be remembered, as well as the actions of the vast majority who fought for their country.

Importantly, for the town, historical society and county, if the Nutter D. Marvel Carriage Museum is to survive, it must change. The financial numbers tell the story. The history accumulated and shown at the museum should not be lost.

The alliance offers to work with the town, historical society and interested parties to move forward to eliminate the divisive symbolism and tell the full story of an era we must not forget. The alliance has many supporters who are residents of the town and even more who frequent Georgetown. Let’s work together to cure the error made in 2007 and move the historical society forward.

Tom Irvine

History Committee chair

Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice

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