Pressure mounts against the Town of Georgetown over confederate flag controversy

GEORGETOWN, Del. – Pressure mounted Monday night in the Town of Georgetown as concerned citizens and members of the Central Delaware NAACP turned out to condemn council members over their decision to fund a local museum that flies the confederate flag.

The condemnation comes after a check for more than $24,000 was delivered to the Georgetown Historical Society, who owns and operates the Marvel Museum, where a confederate flag flies at a monument honoring soldiers who fought in the confederacy during the Civil War.

A check that was to be delivered to the organization was voided by Georgetown Mayor Bill West after learning that no formal committee process was established prior to the vote that approved the funding, which could open the door to a potential lawsuit. Three council members, Angela Townsend, Sue Barlow, and Penuel Barrett pushed ahead with that funding, delivering a new check to the historical society earlier this month.

The latest council meeting was held Monday night in Georgetown where concerned citizens and the Central Delaware NAACP turned out to voice their concerns and condemn the three council members who pushed ahead with funding the organization.

“I have listened with horror at you guys, you ought to be ashamed, every last one of you,” a concerned citizen said to council during the public comment period of the meeting.

She then proceeded to directly call out Councilwoman Townsend, who made the initial motion to approve the funding last month.

“Angela Townsend, you said, according to the quotes, if you don’t like it, don’t look at it, you can’t miss it! That’s what you said,” she stated emphatically. “Yea, I don’t have to look at a swastika in this country, or I don’t have to look at a swastika in Germany, but I have to look at a confederate flag here.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councilwoman Townsend defended her decision to fund the museum.

“Everyone is being offended by something, and a lot of things offend me, but I put up with it and I deal with it, I said how many people are against the Vietnam War, is that memorial going to come down next?,” Councilwoman Townsend stated. “I’m not black, so I don’t know, I’m not in your position, and ya know, I didn’t do it to be mean, I voted because to me it was the right thing to do for the marvel museum to make improvements to the property.”

Fleur McKendell, president of the Central Delaware NAACP, also spoke at Monday night’s meeting where she called out Councilwoman Sue Barlow who supported funding the museum despite being a lifelong member of the historical society.

“The confederate flag is a repulsive symbol of hate, oppression, violence, and white privilege, and is representative of 13 states that elected to turn their backs on this country, and secede from this country so that they could uphold the right to own, imprison, and oppress black slaves for economic gain,” McKendell stated. “And to Councilwoman Sue Barlow, shame on you for not recusing yourself from voting on this matter in the first place in that you are a lifetime member of the Georgetown Historical Society which unarguably served as a conflict.”

Councilwoman Barlow, prior to the public comment period, defended leadership at the historical society, claiming that after all this time they just assumed everyone was essentially ok with the confederate flag flying.

“I’m sorry to say it, I just feel like, that the flag is a non-story, it should not be taken care of in a public forum like this, it should have been discussed with the people at the Marvel Museum because those are good people,” Councilwoman Barlow stated. “And they would understand if you go to them and talk to them about your problems, they would understand. Right now, after all these years, they just assumed that everybody accepted that flag.”

Repeated attempts to reach both Councilwoman Townsend and Councilwoman Barlow have been ignored.

An ordinance from 2007 specifically states that when it comes to G.R.E.A.T. funding, which is where the $24,750 to the Georgetown Historical Society is being allocated from, the Georgetown Town Council must establish a committee to review such funding prior to approving it and that committee may then recommend the funding be put forth for a vote on council. No such committee process was formed prior to the vote at the council meeting on July 25, 2022.

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Mayor Bill West has been a vocal critic of funding the museum over the confederate flag and the process in which that funding was approved. He called out Councilwoman Barlow directly at Monday night’s meeting as she was reportedly on council in 2007 when that motion to form such a committee for that type of funding was adopted.

“If we should be mad at anybody, it should be Sue,” Mayor West stated. “She was on council when this ordinance was passed.”

Councilwoman Barlow responded to Mayor West, citing her age and her assumption that town leadership had read and knew of the ordinance.

“I just want to defend myself Bill,” Councilwoman Barlow said. “That ordinance that you’re talking about was passed in 2008 [actually passed in 2007] I was on the council at the time, but ya know that’s a long time ago and I am 78 years old, so I don’t have a really good memory and I assumed that the Town Manager and the Town Solicitor had read the ordinance and knew what it said.”

There have been grave concerns in the town over the potential of a lawsuit following the way the funding was approved, a concern Mayor West expressed during Monday night’s meeting.

“It’s going down that road,” Mayor West said. “29 years as a cop, I can tell when somebody’s getting their information together to file a lawsuit, and that’s what’s going on. I’m sorry the town’s in this position. We are going down a wrong road that, people are laughing at us. It hurts, you can see that the businesses are not coming like they were, you can see that the developers are not talking to me about bringing businesses to this town because of what’s going on. We’ve gotta stop it and get our act together or this town’s going to be closed for business.”

Along with approving the funding last month, it was agreed upon by council that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would be signed to ensure a committee would be formed to help resolve the issue, and come up with a more culturally sensitive place for it to be placed in an effort to resolve the issue moving forward. That was all but squashed after the Georgetown Historical Society issued a statement stating that they stand by the Delaware Grays’ Sons of Confederate Veterans and had no intention of taking down the confederate flag.

“The GHS intends to keep its word to SCV, particularly on the choice of flags to adorn the Memorial, and call on all citizens of good character and good faith to commit to the environment of unity, pluralism, and tolerance demonstrated at the unveiling on May 12, 2007, allowing those who chose to honor their dead to do so with respect for their election, all in furtherance of the advancement of education and history that defines the noble object of GHS.”

That statement was ultimately what led Mayor West to void the initial check that he was supposed to deliver to the society where the MOU was to be signed. The three council members, Townsend, Barlow, and Barrett then pushed ahead signing a new check that they delivered to the society, ultimately resulting in the uproar at Monday night’s meeting.

Following the approval of the funding last month, we spoke with Councilwoman Angela Townsend, who we asked if the feelings of black residents in Georgetown mattered to her, to which she replied: “Yes, it matters to me,” she said in response. “I am not promoting slavery, or what happened in the past, the only thing I am doing is, I’m trying to preserve history so it doesn’t repeat itself.”

Our calls and repeated requests for comment following that interview last month have been ignored by Councilwoman Townsend.

Both the Central Delaware NAACP and the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice have stated they are exploring potential lawsuits as it relates to the Town of Georgetown’s handling of approving the funding.

Multiple calls to Georgetown Historical Society President Jim Bowden have went unanswered.

This is a developing story and 47 ABC News will release more information as it becomes available. 

Categories: Delaware, Local News, Local Politics