A controversial banner continued to rile the Culpeper community following the theft by dark of night Thursday of the Confederate battle flag from Stevensburg’s Lenn Park.
An unidentified man pulled down and bent over a metal flag pole, then removed the battle flag that had been flying over the county-owned park off of Route 3.
A security camera near the flagpole captured images of the destruction of property around 10:55 p.m. on July 30. The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office reported the incident Friday morning and released images of a male suspect in asking the public’s help in identifying him.
Calls from local citizens to remove the flag considered offensive by many in the community have intensified in recent weeks as part of a nationwide focus on racial injustice following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd. The African-American man took his last breaths on a Minneapolis street with a police officer’s knee on his neck.
Comments planned at public hearing
A petition started by Culpeper native Amy Hunter at http://chng.it/YLCfHDHj to remove the Confederate battle flag from Lenn Park has garnered more than 4,500 signatures.
She will lead a contingent speaking on the issue during the public comment portion at the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors meeting at 7 p.m. this Tuesday, August 4 in the auditorium at Eastern View High School.
The contentious issue, and the latest developments in Culpeper, have garnered broad reaction on social media with some dubbing Thursday’s flag-removal, “Good trouble,” the rallying call of recently laid to rest civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.
Hunter, who feels the flag is a symbol of hate, said on Friday she would be at Tuesday’s hearing to speak her mind about the flag in the park. She previously said when she sees the flag it makes her get a pit in her stomach.
“I think we should still show up just in case they are thinking about replacing it,” Hunter said.
Someone already had by Friday afternoon, anonymously. The flag removal, within hours, rallied a group of local men to hang a replacement battle flag over Lenn Park.
Culpeper Minutemen—two groups
A local man who posts on Facebook as “Culpeper Minutemen” apparently joined three others in re-hoisting the battle flag.
NBC4 News out of Washington, D.C. captured the scene while reporter Scott MacFarlane was at Lenn Park on Friday doing a story about the Confederate symbols issue that has sowed division in many communities nationwide (https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/confederate-flag-taken-in-virginia-new-one-hoisted-in-its-place/2378590/).
The men, though filmed, were not interviewed and the man who put the flag back had his face covered with a mask.
Culpeper Minutemen on Facebook—different from the local Culpeper Minutemen Chapters of the Daughters & Sons of the American Revolution historical preservation group—posted the NBC story on its page and a comment, “Communists keep taking them down. We’re going to keep putting them up.”
The Star-Exponent messaged Culpeper Minutemen Facebook page and received responses from a man claiming to be the one who put the flag back in Lenn Park on Friday, as filmed by NBC4.
He declined to provide his identity, saying he had a good job in construction and didn’t want to get harassed online or in person. The man said he has been quietly replacing the flags at Lenn Park for 10 years: “I’m sure it will get torn down again. I’ll just put it back up. We’re not a hate group. We’re not racist. We just see the war a lot different.”
Charles Jameson, head of the Culpeper Minutemen Chapter SAR, weighed in on the battle flag in the county park.
“This has been a tough week for me. My hometown really disappoints me,” he said.
Jameson said he sent information to the board of supervisors regarding the Civil War’s cause of preserving slavery as well as “a psychology report” on the Confederate symbol: “I will keep fighting on this,” Jameson said.
Flag history, locally
The Confederate flag has flown next to an American flag over the public facility since 2006 when members of the Lenn family, brothers in their 90s who live next door, gave 85 acres of their farmland to the county for creation of the park. As part of the agreement, the brothers specified the flags fly for perpetuity. The Lenns have also contributed many amenities to the park, according to a nephew, Bentley Meredith, who lives nearby.
“Other than the dog park, a few of the picnic tables, and some of the walking paths, my uncles paid for everything in that park. Ball fields, bandstand, pavilion, playgrounds, airfield and boy scout park,” Meredith wrote in a recent email.
The Lenn brothers could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.
The scenic park that bears their name in the historic village close to a vineyard in eastern Culpeper is enjoyed by many. But the battle flag has caused separation. The Lenns started flying it on private land in 2001 as part of a historic display and monument they put up to honor a Confederate scout who died in the area.
Culpeper County government leaders initially claimed they had given the flag parcel back to the Lenns five years ago and therefore had no control over it. However, that deed of transfer, relinquishing public ownership of the small piece of land highlighting Confederate history, was not officially ratified until last month, on July 6, 2020.
The Rev. Adrian Sledge was interviewed for the NBC4 segment at Lenn Park.
“If you don’t want these type of results, it’s time to have an open conversation, an open dialogue and be truthful to one another and listen to where everyone stands,” he said in the TV interview. “This way you don’t have these type of situations where people are vandalizing property.”
In a message Saturday to the Star-Exponent, Sledge said if the flag property belongs to the Lenn brothers, “Then it is their right to keep it and none has the right to destroy it. But if the county is responsible it needs to come down.”
Sledge, an Army veteran, said the county board of supervisors “has made this a difficult problem that has created division in our community.”
He added, “As much as it offends me, I still support First Amendment rights. But this decision will be addressed in the 2021 election. We can only move forward and make sure leadership don’t make these types of decisions again.”
Symbol of history or oppression?
Though it seems like new issues of Confederate imagery in modern day life are surfacing daily, the topic is not on Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors agenda. Members have certainly been hearing about it from constituents, and more comments are expected at the public hearing.
Stevensburg Supervisor Bill Chase, who helped facilitate the Lenn Park land donation through his long relationship with the brothers, was asked recently about the battle flag issue.
Chase told the Star-Exponent he would do whatever his constituents told him to do.
Catalpa Supervisor Paul Bates, serving his first term on the elected board, was asked about the Lenn Park flagpole destruction. He shared his feelings on Friday in a phone conversation, saying he was “dead-set against sweeping history under the rug.”
“I don’t appreciate what has happened throughout the nation where if it doesn’t align with the way I feel, I will destroy it,” Bates said.
An Air Force veteran who served as crew chief during the Libyan conflict of 1985, Bates said Confederate symbols “remind us where our country comes from.”
“I hate what our country has done and gone through, but we have learned from our mistakes and progressed forward from it,” Bates said. “I don’t approve of what the South stood for, but we have made progress.”
Confederate soldiers didn’t have the luxury of saying they didn’t want to fight for the cause of the Civil War, he added. Bates admitted some “hate groups” have claimed the battle flag to promote their own interests. He said he could not comment on how the flag makes other people feel.
Bates added while he does not believe the battle flag is a cause for celebration that it should be allowed to remain as a historical marker in Lenn Park in an area of actual battlefield: “This is about history,” he said.
Culpeper Town Councilwoman Jamie Clancey, asked about the flag issue, said everyone has a right to freedom of speech.
“I strongly believe that there is incredible value in celebrating different opinions and perspectives as our diverse community works together to advance and grow. I do, however, question the need for our local government to sponsor and support flags or monuments that honor events or people that fought to oppress others,” she said.
“Recognizing and remembering that history should be left to thorough, transparent, and honestly written history books; not be celebrated on publicly funded land,” she added.
The flag controversy may resolve itself.
A source close to the situation told the Star-Exponent on Saturday afternoon that the Lenn brothers didn’t appreciate the initial destruction and removal of the flag or the purported Minutemen who showed up later to replace them.
“No one seems to respect private property anymore,” the source said, adding the Lenns would never give permission to any group or person to take or replace the flags.
The original flags the brothers installed back in 2001 were the Union flag of 1863 (similar to the American flag) and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the source said.
According to the source, the other flagpole rehung with the Confederate battle flag and American flag will likely be “cut down” in the near future because the whole situation is just becoming too much of a headache for the elderly brothers. They’re “tired of fighting,” the source said.
Anyone with information about the destruction of property and flag removal in Lenn Park is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 540/727-7900. Calls may remain anonymous by contacting Culpeper Crime Solvers at 540/727-0300.