Gettysburg to sell Confederate flags despite National Park Service request

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 6:25 p.m.

GETTYSBURG — Rodney Cromeans' family is at war again.

His ancestors, native Texans, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Today Cromeans, a 60-year-old historian, proud of his family's sacrifice, sits on his Gettysburg front porch flying the Confederate flag to fight for his right to honor them.

“I usually fly the Texas national flag,” Cromeans said Wednesday on his porch, wearing the uniform of a Confederate soldier and holding a corner of the worn Confederate battle flag waving from his Baltimore Street home. “But since we're now in a battle, I fly my battle flag.”

In the week since a white gunman shot and killed nine black people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., cries to remove the Confederate flag from government buildings and store shelves have grown strong. Photos circulated online after the shooting showing Dylann Storm Roof, 21, the accused gunman, holding the symbol of the Civil War-era South.

Walmart, Amazon, Sears, eBay and other major retailers have pledged to stop selling Confederate flags or items with the flag on it.

Lawmakers in South Carolina voted to consider a measure removing the flag from its state Capitol. The Alabama governor ordered four Confederate banners or flags removed from its Capitol. Legislatures in other Southern states with flags or memorials to Confederate generals are divided.

The National Park Service Wednesday asked groups operating gift shops at national Civil War battlefields and monuments to pull the Confederate flag and items featuring only the flag — mugs, key chains, T-shirts — from store shelves, said Kathy Kupper, a National Park Service spokeswoman.

The Gettysburg Foundation, which runs the gift shop and book store at the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor Museum and Visitor Center does not plan to pull its Confederate flag items.

“We've not changed any policies related to the Confederate flag,” said Cindy L. Small, director of communications and marketing for the foundation, a nonprofit that works closely with the National Park Service. “Since Gettysburg is one of the places where the armies fought and soldiers carried these flags, we feel that it is appropriate to sell them here.”

The gift shop sells several items — including a mouse pad and beer koozie — with both Confederate and American flags on them. American flags otherwise dominate the gift shop's shelves. A 3- by 5-inch Confederate flag on a stick sells for $1.99. A tub of little plastic Civil War soldiers comes with little plastic American and Confederate flags. A pocket knife with a photo of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee comes in a case featuring a Confederate flag.

“We're very aware of how sensitive this issue is nationally,” said Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park.

Lawhon said policies over selling the Confederate flag are under review at Gettysburg as well as nationally.

Union and Confederate armies clashed on the fields of Gettysburg in early July 1863. The Army of Northern Virginia, led by Lee, fought under the Confederate battle flag, a red flag with a blue X and stars. Some battlefield memorials and monuments at The Angle and Copse of Trees and the Brian Farm — all where Union troops withstood Pickett's Charge — show the flag. But along Seminary Ridge, where Confederate forces amassed and memorials to Southern states dot West Confederate Avenue, the battle flag is largely absent.

Historical symbol

The Confederate flag seems appropriate on the battlefield, said Thomas Hartfield of Clermont, Ga., who stopped with his family along Seminary Ridge.

“As you get away from these historical sites, it's different,” he said.

Hartfield, 39, who teaches math at the University of North Georgia, grew up in Mississippi and around the Confederate flag. He's proud to be from Mississippi but not proud of the flag.

New Jersey-based Annin Flagmakers — the country's oldest manufacturer, having been in business since before the Civil War — announced Tuesday that it would cease making the Confederate battle flag and other Confederate artillery flags.

Annin sells to retailers whose core customers are historical reenactment groups, said company spokeswoman Mary Repke.

“The flags are such a really small, small amount of our business,” Repke said, “so it was an easy decision to make.”

Valley Forge Flag in Pennsylvania and Eder Flag Manufacturing in Wisconsin also said this week that they would stop producing the flags.

Souvenir shops in Gettysburg still sold Confederate flag items, including boxer shorts. And at the Blue and Gray Bar and Grill on Lincoln Square, the Gen. Robert E. Lee Burger, a cheeseburger with a slice of Virginia ham, still arrived skewered with a Confederate flag.

‘Not about the flag'

Keith Petters, 30, of Gettysburg bought the downtown restaurant in 2012 and has topped burgers named after Union and Confederate generals with the appropriate flags since. He's received two angry phone calls since the Charleston shooting, and someone came into the restaurant before it opened Tuesday to demand the flags' removal.

“If it's that offensive to them, then they should find someplace else to eat,” said Petters, arms covered in tattoos and wearing a backwards ball cap. “Because I put a Confederate flag in a freaking' cheeseburger doesn't mean I support slavery or anything that happened in Charleston.”

Petters decided to ask employees Wednesday if the flags offended them. Dontale King Sr., a black man who works in the kitchen and occasionally sticks a Confederate flag in a burger, did not care.

“It's not about the flag; it's about why he felt that way,” King, 45, of Gettysburg said of the Charleston gunman.

Cromeans, in his Confederate uniform, agreed.

“If you want to go after the flag, go after the people who are abusing this flag,” he said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or Staff writer Jason Cato and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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