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Petition Seeks Removal of Confederate Flag in Culpeper County

NBC Washington D.C. logo NBC Washington D.C. 7/2/2020 Scott MacFarlane, Rick Yarborough and Jeff Piper
a flag hanging on a pole © Provided by NBC Washington D.C.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition to remove a Confederate flag that flies above a playground and county park in Culpeper County, Virginia.

The flag was the subject of debate in Culpeper after the 2015 murders of church members by a white supremacist in South Carolina but is also the source of some confusion in the county, according to an I-Team review.

The Confederate flag flies next to an American flag, nearly 30 feet above the ground next to Lenn Park, a park operated by the county on land donated by three brothers in the Lenn family. The park sits on land near the site of the 1863 Battle of Brandy Station between Union and Confederate soldiers. 

County officials said the agreement to take the gifted land required the county to maintain the Confederate flag on the site. After a public debate in 2015, the county said it agreed to return the small tract of land on which the flag stands to the Lenn family and keep the remainder of the park under county control.

“You don’t see the Nazi flag flying in Germany and you don’t see Saddam Hussein posters hanging in Iraq, so how do we have a confederate flag,” said Pastor Adrian Sledge, who leads a church in Culpeper. Sledge said the county should revisit its agreement with the Lenn brothers.

A change.org petition seeks the flag’s removal and has garnered more than 1,000 signatures in recent weeks.

The Culpeper County administrator said the county has received some email inquiries about the flag but added the county Board of Supervisors has not scheduled any public hearings about it.

Complicating any debate over the flag is the lack of clarity over who maintains it or how it is maintained. Kaye Lenn, one of the three brothers who donated the property, told the I-Team his family has not received any paperwork or official notice from the county about the return of the land to his family. Lenn said he is unsure who maintains the historical markers and the flags at the site next to the park. The I-Team asked the county about that but has not heard back.

Lenn said citizens who use the park should not be intimidated by the flag.

“The flag is about history, not about race,” he said. “If the NAACP has a problem with it, they shouldn’t.”

An NAACP representative in Culpeper spoke in opposition to the hanging of the flag at the park at a Board of Supervisors hearing in October 2015, but the new petition is not authored or organized by the local NAACP.

The I-Team also spoke with a group of longtime Culpeper County residents about a 30-foot Confederate soldiers memorial next to the county courthouse and jail. The memorial is not mentioned in the new petition but is the source of local controversy, the group said.

“If all that you revere is the Confederacy, then that says to me you revere what the Confederacy stands for,” Hortense Hilton-Jackson said. “And that doesn’t stand for me. That stands for the enslavement of me.” 

Hilton-Jackson, a lifelong Culpeper resident who was educated in a segregated public school, said the county should consider the monument’s removal.

Others who’ve long resided in Culpeper told the I-Team the monument honors Confederate soldiers, not Confederate leaders or the secession movement. Len Cowherd, who has an ancestor that fought for the Confederacy and whose son died in the War in Iraq, said the stone represents history, not racism. 

“The statue that is here honors the soldier who was dying in the trenches,” Cowherd said. “The statue doesn’t represent the brass, it represents the soldier.”

The I-Team submitted questions to each member of the county’s Board of Supervisors asking if there are complaints about the Confederate statue or any plans to relocate it.

Only one supervisor responded. He said only a few comments have been submitted. He said residents of the county are more concerned about other issues.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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