Confederate flag issue returning to Walton County commission
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — A Walton County business owner is asking the county commission to remove the Confederate monument and a Confederate flag from the grounds of the county courthouse.
The flag flying at the monument honoring the county's Civil War dead is not the Confederate battle flag, whose red field and diagonal blue lines emblazoned with stars has been appropriated by white supremacist groups in the decades since the Civil War.
The flag at the courthouse features three alternating red and white stripes and a blue field decorated with a circle of seven stars representing the original Confederate states.
The Confederate battle flag had flown at the Walton courthouse memorial from 1964 until 2015, when the then-sitting commission voted to abandon it.
Peter Horn III, owner of custom homebuilding company Artisan of Seagrove and a Walton County native, will make his request to remove the flag and monument at Tuesday's commission meeting, set for 4 p.m. in the commission meeting room in DeFuniak Springs.
Horn's presentation will come a little more than six months after commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the flag flying. Six months is the minimum time that certain issues must be put aside before being reintroduced to the commission.
Horn said Friday he had been tangentially involved in a previous effort to have the monument and flag removed, but decided following last year's commission vote to take a broader role in what have been ongoing community efforts to get the Confederate reminders off those grounds.
"I'm the bonehead whose turn it is," Horn joked Friday.
But it's clear that his commitment to removing the flag is deeply serious. The Confederate battle flag began flying at the courthouse in the midst of the civil rights era, and in Horn's view, the continuing presence of a Confederate flag at the courthouse is an echo of that initial flag's presence.
"It was put up to enforce white supremacy and remind Black people of their place," Horn contended Friday.
For Horn, the courthouse monument — first erected in 1871 at a Walton County church before it was moved to the old county seat at Eucheeanna and then to the DeFuniak Springs courthouse — is less problematic than the flag because it predates the nation's civil rights era.
Horn rejects arguments that the flag is representative of Southern heritage, suggesting that there are myriad other ways — like a cooking contest, he suggested lightheartedly — to honor that heritage.
There also is a personal motivation, Horn emphasized.
"It's particularly important to me because my family in Alabama owned slaves and fought in the Civil War, and I think that was the wrong thing to do," he said.
Commissioners Trey Nick, Melanie Nipper and Danny Glidewell voted last June against a proposal to remove the flag. Commissioners Bill Chapman and Tony Anderson voted in favor of its removal.
But the composition of the commission changed in November, as Chapman and Nipper opted not to seek re-election. They were replaced by Commissioners Mike Barker, a former director of the county's emergency management department, and William McCormick, a former Walton County sheriff's deputy.
Anderson also was up for re-election in November, but prevailed against a challenge from local emergency physician and community activist Dr. Carolynn Zonia.
In other comments Friday, Horn expressed some optimism that prospects for removal of the Confederate flag and monument from the courthouse grounds are at least edging closer to reality.
"The political will is there," he said. But, he added, "there hasn't been enough public organizing around it."
The agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting includes a further statement from Horn, who noted in his request for time in front of the commission that the "lost cause of the confederacy is not one that should be celebrated or honored, especially not on public land. The confederate flag was always and has always been a traitor flag, and sends a message of hatred and subjugation to our black and brown brothers and sisters. Symbols and hatred and white supremacy do not belong in our county."
There will be time for public comment on the issue at Tuesday's meeting. Horn said Friday that he had not personally recruited any other people to speak.
Attendance at the meeting is limited because of coronavirus protocols. For those unable to attend, the meeting can be seen and public comment can be offered via the Zoom teleconferencing tool. The Zoom link for Tuesday's meeting is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82001777947.