Two southern Delaware governments are split on whether to provide funding to the Georgetown Historical Society, an organization already denied state funding because it allows a Confederate flag to be flown on its property at the Marvel Museum.
The Sussex County Council voted unanimously to give the society $2,000, while the Georgetown Town Council narrowly voted to deny $24,750 in funding. Georgetown will rehear the historical society’s case Monday.
The controversial Confederate flag has long been a subject of contention and remains such in the current era of American racial reckoning. Giving taxpayer dollars to a group that allows the divisive flag to be flown is seen by many as sympathizing with Southern slave owners.
The Seaford-based Delaware Grays Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #2068 installed and maintains the monument, which has been “honoring” Delaware soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War since 2007, according to the Delaware Grays website.
Aside from the Confederate monument, the Marvel Museum, at 510 S. Bedford St., has multiple buildings housing collections of antique carriages, Victrolas, telephones and other items related to Georgetown’s history.
“It has become a wonderful museum − with a stain,” said Georgetown Councilwoman Christine Diaz Malone, the only person of color on the council. “And if you want to wear your stain outwardly, you ought to be allowed, but you ought not to have your government’s support.”
How Sussex and Georgetown councils voted
The Georgetown Historical Society requested $14,000 from the county for heating and air conditioning work on June 21.
Councilman John Rieley said the request was untimely, coming at the end of the fiscal year. He said he’d provide $2,000 and invited the group to come back again in the new fiscal year. The motion passed quickly, with all council members voting in its favor.
The last time Sussex County awarded the Georgetown Historical Society money was in 2017. Former Councilmen Sam Wilson, George Cole and I.G. Burton gave $6,000 from their councilmanic accounts for building upgrades.
On July 11, the historical society requested $24,750 from the Georgetown Recreation, Education, Arts Trust Fund to stripe and seal their parking lot, replace window sashes and install new flooring.
Councilwoman Sue Barlow was absent from the July 11 meeting. Mayor Bill West and Councilwoman Diaz Malone voted against the measure, while council members Penuel Barrett and Angela Townsend voted for it. A tie is a failing measure in Georgetown.
Mayor Bill West said he doesn’t believe the town received any letters in support of funding the museum. The town did get multiple letters against it, including from the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and an anonymous person who Diaz Malone said feared retribution.
“If this funding is approved … this is a direct statement of support for white supremacy, terrorism, systemic generational racist oppression and lynching,” the anonymous writer said.
Several people spoke against the museum at the meeting. One person, Councilwoman Townsend’s husband, spoke in favor of it.
Councilwoman Townsend said she has “no problem” with the flag and, to her, it is not a symbol of racism but of history.
“The majority of people,” she said, “are not offended by the flag.”
Removing the flag was not proposed to the council, but Townsend lamented her fears of multiple monument removals.
“If we do away with the flag at the Marvel Museum, what’s next? Are we going to take down the Vietnam monument over here because people object to it? I mean, where’s it gonna stop?” Townsend said. “Somebody might wanna take down Chad Spicer’s monument because they don’t back the blue. Where’s it gonna end?”
Councilman Barrett said he thought providing the funds to the society was “a good idea.”
Mayor West had multiple questions for society President Jim Bowden and said it was a difficult decision for him due to their friendship.
Later, after the council voted not to give the society the money, Townsend suggested the society come back and re-present their case. The request is on the agenda for the council’s 7 p.m. meeting Monday.
“The Confederate flag represents the cause of those who took up arms to defend the institution of slavery that dehumanized Black people, declared them essentially inferior, and treated them with ghastly cruelty,” the letter said.
“Common Cause Delaware strongly opposes racism. We hope that the Society’s request for a taxpayer subsidy will be swiftly denied.”
State no longer funds museum
In 2019, the state declined to provide about $14,000 in funding to the Georgetown Historical Society.
“I will not play any role in supporting organizations that continue to celebrate the Confederacy and the traitors who fought for its failed racist ideology of hate and enslavement,” Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, said in a statement that year.
The state had been called to stop funding the society several years prior.
In 2017, the Lower Sussex NAACP urged Georgetown-area legislators Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, both Republicans, to “immediately call on the Controller General’s Office to halt its $11,500 Grant-in-Aid money to the Georgetown Historical Society until it removes the Delaware Confederate Monument from its grounds.”
Days later, Pettyjohn penned an op-ed in support of the monument.
“This monument does not glorify (Confederate soldiers). It is merely an inscription of names, with the Confederate battle flag displayed both on the monument and on a flag alongside the Delaware state flag,” he wrote.
Shannon Marvel McNaught reports on Sussex County and beyond. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @marvelmcnaught.