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Nov. 27, 2021

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Ridgefield Confederate flag ‘sends a message,’ black leader says

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Jefferson Davis Park is seen Monday along Interstate 5 near Ridgefield.
Jefferson Davis Park is seen Monday along Interstate 5 near Ridgefield. The park features a Confederate flag, a symbol that has come into question in the wake of last week's massacre of nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina. Photo Gallery

More and more people call for the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

Rocked by mass murder committed in the name of racism, South Carolina may be lurching toward removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of its state capitol.

But a Confederate flag still flies over Clark County, yards south of Ridgefield — and one local African-American likened it to a noose swinging in the wind in the Jim Crow era of hatred and segregation.

“It sends a message of the old days,” said the Rev. Marva Edwards, a Vancouver resident and leader of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights group. “It is not a positive reflection of the United States of America. It is a reflection of bigotry, and divisiveness and hatred. It does not symbolize what America stands for.”

In 2008, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a fraternal organization with a branch in Portland, held a grand opening for a diminutive quarter-acre park just south of the Gee Creek Rest Area on the west side of Interstate 5. According to a statement on the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ website, Jefferson Davis Park is only meant to be “a pleasant and honorable tribute” to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America and leader of the Southern rebellion that became the Civil War.

More and more people call for the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.

The tiny park, which sits on private property, doesn’t contain much. But somebody does go by daily to raise a Confederate flag — and an American flag — over the park and into view from I-5.

The flag and park have been occasionally controversial here. In 2013, a teacher at Ridgefield High School wrote to The Columbian that driving past it to school every day was upsetting — and inexplicable to students — and in 2008, a large Jefferson Davis sign was stolen from the park and discovered in Salmon Creek.

In recent days, Confederate flags have again become a hot button issue, as the nation considers past and present racism and racist violence in the aftermath of the church massacre in Charleston, S.C., which was perpetrated by a young man who reportedly wanted to start a race war.

Some people, including those in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, have long maintained that displaying Confederate flags isn’t an endorsement of racism or slavery; it’s only supposed to be a show of pride in Southern history, heritage and identify.

But on Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol building in Columbia. Haley said that the murder of nine black worshippers at a historically black church by a white racist means that it’s time to “look at (the flag) in a different way.” Some may see the flag as an innocent symbol, Haley said, but “for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally racist past.”

On Monday afternoon, a staffer in the Clark County council’s office said there was no comment — other than that councilor Jeanne Stewart was gathering information on the local flag issue but couldn’t comment yet.

On their website (scvpacnw.wordpress.com) and Facebook page in recent days, The Sons of Confederate Veterans have continued to defend their flag and its presence in Ridgefield, and to clarify their position about racism and violence: “The SCV does not condone acts of violence against anyone because of their race, religious beliefs or national origins,” wrote Erik Ernst and Thomas Vincent, local commanders of the SCV. “The Sons of Confederate Veterans and Jefferson Davis Park, are a 501c3 non-profit organization and we are not associated with any other groups or organizations. We are non-political and anti-Racist.

“We are strictly a Veteran heritage organization,” they continued, whose “mission is to honor and defend the Confederate Soldiers good name, defend our heritage and present the true history of the South to future generations.”

A different posting on the SCV Facebook page says: “The South was right to secede and it wasn’t until Lincoln sent 70,000 soldiers to wage war on Americans, that the people finally saw that their only chance to stay free would be to leave. The war was not fought over Slavery,” but over states’ rights and tariffs, it insists.

“We are deeply troubled and saddened by what happened in Charleston, S.C., and we offer our prayers and support for the families of the victims. This is yet another example of racial intolerance and hate by one twisted individual that sadly lead to such a horrific event. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is against all forms of racial intolerance.”

But Edwards — whose ancestors were slaves, she said — dismissed the idea that the Confederate flag symbolizes anything else to black Americans. Even after the Civil War was over, she said, black people who saw nooses tied to tree branches knew they were being sent a message of hatred: “We’re still here. You’re still under us.”

“That’s what it means to black Americans,” she said. “We see that flag and we have to wonder, is it going to be the noose next?”

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