This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio.
The Confederate Cemetery on the city’s Eastside is the burial site for hundreds of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and the debate is over whether the cemetery flag should come down.
John McCammon, president of the Confederate Cemetery Association, pulls weeds from the grave of John Green Hall, who died in 1901. “He was a lieutenant in the Confederate Army,” says McCammon. “He was born in Tennessee but he wound up here in San Antonio.”
There are more than 900 graves in this two-acre private cemetery along East Commerce Street and New Braunfels Avenue. Confederate soldiers from Central Texas are buried in about a fourth of the graves. The Texas Historical Commission has designated the Confederate Cemetery a historic site, worth preserving.
The flag currently flying over the cemetery is known as the Stars and Bars, one of many flown by Confederate troops. It has red and white horizontal stripes. The blue square in the upper left corner is imprinted with a circle of stars.
“The flag you see here — and we rotate our flags, we don’t always fly this flag but the flag you see here — is the First National. It has seven stars for the seven original states that seceded from the Union, which, one of those, was Texas.”
This Confederate flag looks a little like today’s American flag, which is flying less than 50 feet away at another cemetery. But San Antonio Councilman Alan Warrick, an African American who represents this area, says the Confederate Flag holds a completely different meaning for those who associate it with a fight to preserve slavery.
“We’re not talking about banning history; we’re talking about putting it in a museum where it belongs, so that information can be shared. It’s like a black only water fountain that you would see in the Jim Crow segregation era, to show that to someone who lived through that time would be a travesty.”
The cemetery is private property, but Warrick thinks the flag should come down. San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who’s also African-American, hasn’t addressed the flag at this cemetery. But she recently defended the display of Confederate flags and monuments if they’re presented in the context of history.
Less than four blocks away from the cemetery, 94-year-old Lois White seems to feel much as the mayor does. White is also African American. She’s lived in her East Side home for 63 years.
“I’m of two minds. If it is there to honor the men who fell, even though the cause might have been, from my point of view, the wrong cause, I see no reason why it should not fly. If it is to be used a symbol of hate, then I say discard it.”
McCammon says the flag flying here isn’t about hate at all. It’s about heritage. He says hate groups are not welcome at the cemetery. “We don’t associate with any of that. In fact, if we found that anybody was a member of that, they couldn’t be a part of the association, we just wouldn’t’ allow it.”
Still when Warrick sees this flag he sees racism. “I don’t have any issue with honoring them but it’s the symbol of divisiveness that I do have an issue with. You don’t need a flag to honor them, you can have a plaque to honor them, or some kind of marker than honors them, and not necessarily a flag.”
In defending a display of the Confederate flag over the resting place of Confederate soldiers, McCammon recalls the words Martin Luther King. “Martin Luther King said he hoped that the day would come that little white children and little black children could play together and get along and that’s the way I feel about it.”
McCammon says the Confederate Cemetery Association has no plans to remove the flag.