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Walton County commissioners silent on Confederate flag and monument

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners were silent Tuesday on a request from a local businessman to have a Confederate-era flag and monument to the county's Civil War dead removed from the courthouse grounds.

Peter Horn III, a Walton County native and homebuilder, got on the "citizen requests" segment of the agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting a little more than six months after the then-sitting commission voted in June of last year to keep the flag flying as part of the memorial. Six months is the minimum time required to bring an issue back in front of commissioners for consideration.

Horn's request was the latest chapter in an ongoing series of actions in connection with the courthouse memorial, which was erected in 1871 at a church in the county. After being moved to a former county seat some time later, the monument was relocated to the courthouse grounds in DeFuniak Springs in 1926. The familiar Confederate battle flag, which has been co-opted by any number of hate groups, was added as a part of the monument in 1964.

Six years ago, a commission vote replaced that flag with the first flag of the Confederate States of America, with alternating read and white stripes and seven stars in a blue field signifying the first seven Confederate states.

More:Juneteenth marked with march and rally in DeFuniak Springs

Three years ago, county voters decided in a referendum that the flag should remain as part of the memorial, and last year, the then-sitting commissioners voted to maintain that decision. And on Tuesday, after hearing many minutes of back-and-forth on the issue, commissioners opted simply to close public comment without offering any comment of their own.

Horn prefaced his request by saying, "I love this place that raised me" before asserting that Confederate symbology has no place on public property.

"It's unpatriotic," Horn, whose forebears in Alabama owned slaves and fought in the Civil War, told commissioners. Horn added that the history of the local monument and its flag is problematic because its relocation there during the country's civil rights era was intended “to reinforce the idea of white supremacy.”

"The institution of slavery is a stain on our nation that we may never wash out," Horn asserted.

"The fact is that the Confederacy lost" the Civil War "and we don't fly losers' flags in our country," he added.

Horn suggested that, moving forward, the county should find a means to recognize the diversity of its history.

A version of the first official flag of the Confederate States of America flies near Florida's first confederate monument on the grounds of the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.

“Let’s work together to find a better way to honor our shared heritage,” he said.

Public comment on Horn's request to remove the monument and flag was mixed.

More:Confederate flag issue returning to Walton County commission

David McCallister, heritage chairman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Florida, joined the meeting via video teleconference to say the monument and flag are "a memorial to the dead of Walton County, who stood up and defended their homes and their families against an illegal and unconstitutional invasion of the state of Florida."

Walton County commissioners had no public comment Tuesday on a request from local businessman Peter Horn III to remove this Confederate-era flag and an associated memorial to the county's Civil War dead from the courthouse grounds.

Also speaking in favor of keeping the monument and flag was a Black man dressed in a jacket mimicking the Confederate flag who said, “If anybody has a problem with the flag, you can just turn your head."

An older white man asked commissioners in a raised voice, “Has that piece of stone out there ever whooped a slave? That flag ain’t never whooped no slave.”

Among the people on the other side of the issue was Peter Horn Jr., the father of Peter Horn III, who told commissioners, "My issue is that if we're going to have that monument, (it) should commemorate the reason the war was fought."

Contending that the Confederate states were “exercising their rights as states in order to maintain the institution of slavery," the elder Horn went on to tell commissioners, "... we should be honest about the reason the Civil War was fought."

"It's as simple as that," Horn Jr. said, "... but let's don't put a mythology on that flag that’s not true.”

In comments after the meeting, Horn III called the Confederate flag "a roadblock to progress in our county" and added that commissioners "... will have to face the people time and time again until they do the right thing."

"The difference between remembrance and reverence is an important one to make," Horn continued. "We're not asking to erase history, but that flag has no place on public grounds.

"This is not going away," Horn said.