The flying of a Confederate flag at a Delaware museum and a town’s nearly $25,000 grant to the facility will change the flavor of one of the state’s cherished and unique political traditions – Return Day.
Return Day takes place two days after Election Day in Georgetown, the Sussex County seat. The biennial event features a parade through town in which contestants who just faced off in races from U.S. senator to local offices traditionally ride together in horse-drawn carriages provided by the Marvel Carriage Museum, or convertibles. It is a traditionthat was revived in 1952.
The parade ends with the literal burying of a hatchet in a box of sand and dirt at The Circle in front of Town Hall. President Biden was a regular participant since his first election as U.S. senator in 1972 and took part in the parade as late as 2008, when he was elected vice president.
But now the state Democratic Party is urging its members not to ride in the museum-provided carriages on November 10. The carriages typically kick off from the museum as well. Since 2007, a 12-foot granite monument dedicated to Delaware veterans who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War has been on the museum’s lawn, and the rebel flag flies above the white slab.
The directive says the flag belongs, if anywhere, “inside the museum” and wants party members to boycott the museum’s carriages “until such time as the Confederate flag is removed from outside the Marvel Museum.” It is not clear where on the property the flag is flown, however it is not visible from the roadside as evidenced by Google street view. An American flag is also flown outside on the property. It is currently owned by the Georgetown Historical Society.
Officials at the Georgetown Historical Society, which runs the museum and accepted the grant for repairs unrelated to the Confederate monument and flag, did not respond to a request for comment about the Democrats’ move.
Although Democrats and Republicans have used the carriages during Return Day parades since the flag began flying in 2007 and the state gave an annual $14,000 grant until 2018, the town’s recent controversial grant triggered the change of heart, said Travis Williams, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
“The Confederate flag comes with a lot of baggage that we don’t want our folks associating themselves with or would prefer if they weren’t associating themselves with,’’ Williams said.
Williams stressed that the resolution passed by the party’s executive committee hadn’t “suggested any sort of boycott of participation in the Return Day festivities. Our expectation is still that folks would participate. It’s an important tradition here in Delaware.”
Williams cited the 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C., as another reason the directive was given. “We’re taking a stand now because, given the climate that we’re in, given that we’ve seen the Confederate flag literally taken into the Capitol on January 6th, that we can’t be a part of this anymore.”
A man from Laurel, Delaware was seen carrying the flag inside the Capitol on Jan 6th, 2021.
Williams said that as a black man, the presence of a Confederate flag at a museum that gets taxpayer money “is disturbing, frankly.”
Fellow Democrats have been supportive of the directive for Return Day, he said.
“We’ve got to come back together at the end of the day and work for the betterment of Delaware,’’ he said. “And the Confederate flag kind of doesn’t do that, right? It’s antithetical to it.”
Democratic state Senate Majority Whip Tizzy Lockman, who is also Black, said the call to boycott the museum’s carriages is the right one.
“To support and partner with an institution that is doing something that I think flies in the face of many of our own constituents’ rights and interests, is not something that we should do,” Lockman said.
“We can participate in the event in a way,’’ she said, “that doesn’t cross a line into endorsing something that we don’t endorse.”
Lockman doesn’t have an opponent in the Nov. 8 election, and doesn’t know if she will go to Georgetown two days later. But Democratic state Sen. Laura Sturgeon, who faces Republican Ted Kittila, said she definitely won’t use a museum carriage if she attends.
“The whole burying the hatchet idea, I really enjoy that tradition,’’ said Sturgeon. “But I completely agree that to have a starting point or to have any real affiliation with this entity that flies the Confederate flag out in the open for all to see is wrong. That should just not be on display outside because of the incredible pain that it causes people to have to see it and what it stands for.”
Sturgeon said that should she win re-election to a second term, or even if she loses, she would consider inviting Kittila to ride in her car. Or better yet, “I could borrow my dad’s convertible.” Yes, someone who has to borrow daddy's car wants your vote.