Confederate flag in Henry County comes down, and accusations fly

County commissioner says she’s receiving hate mail
Undated scene from Nash Farm Battlefield. (By permission, downloaded from Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page)

Undated scene from Nash Farm Battlefield. (By permission, downloaded from Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page)

The local Civil War museum in Henry County says a lone county commissioner, an African-American woman in office for six months, bullied it into closing its doors.

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But Commissioner Dee Clemmons says all she asked was that the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum in Hampton move a few Confederate flags, and she’s mystified as to why the museum decided to close in response.

Dee Clemmons Henry County District 2 Commissioner. (AJC file)

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Call it “The Battle of He Said, She Said.”

Regardless of who said what, the argument has touched off an angry social media broadside in which Confederate descendants have gone after Clemmons, calling her “ghetto trash” and “another moron that wants to ignore history because of ‘feelings.’” Notes one poster on the Nash Farm Facebook page: “Might i add that she leads the annual McDonough MLK parade … So THEIR history and heritage is OK, and worth acknowledging, but no one else’s?”

The storm is reminiscent of the outrage that greeted the city of New Orleans’ decision to remove four Confederate monuments, including the towering statute of Robert E. Lee that came down last week. Clemmons says she has received 500-plus hate emails, including pictures of firearms.

She supplied one email that said, “You're life is about to become very unpleasant. You should have minded your own business.” Another warned: “We will defend our flag, so you might should rethink your decision before you start a civil war.”

The Nash Farm Battlefield Museum closed its doors for good this week after six years as a draw for locals and Civil War historians. All the artifacts and relics, including swords, guns and bullets, most of them provided by a single donor, have been removed.

The move came after Clemmons forced the museum to remove Confederate flags from public view, said Jimmy Pettitt, who chairs the board of the Friends of Nash Farm Battlefield. The decision was detailed on the farm’s Facebook page, casting Clemmons as the lone catalyst for the closure.

Union and Confederate cavalry members clash during a re-enactment at Nash Farm Battlefield in 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

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“The main reason is that the current District 2 Commissioner, Dee Clemmons, has requested that ALL Confederate flags be removed from the museum, in addition to the gift shop, in an effort not to offend anyone,” the board wrote in a statement. “For anyone who studies the American Civil War, or War Between the States, they realize there were two parties that fought in this war. Confederate flags were on this hallowed ground, as were the Union flags. To remove either of them would be a dishonor.”

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pettitt said the museum had represented both Union and Confederate interests.

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“We had Union flags out there too but she didn’t say anything about that,” Pettitt said.

On Thursday afternoon, however, Clemmons denied ordering the flags to be removed or influencing the closing of the museum. In a March 16 email to the full commission, she wrote that she’d received complaints from constituents.

“[T]here has been an overwhelming request from my constituents to remove the Confederate Flag at the county-owned Nash Farm Park,” Clemmons wrote in an email she shared with the AJC.

“I was surprised that we have this flag in our county inventory flying high for Almost 8 years. When I investigated further … I was relieved that the flag did not belong to Henry County and that the owner would graciously place it in their personal dwelling. If any of you would like the flag placed back up speak now. If you get concerns from citizens refer them to me.”

Sign on the museum, now closed, at Nash Farm Battlefield. (By permission, downloaded from Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page)

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The building sits on 204 acres of battlefield land which Henry County purchased from a developer for $8 million in 2006. Just after she was elected last year, Clemmons told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she wanted to see the battlefield ground become “the Central Park of the South.” She said she’d visited the battlefield months ago and told Pettitt that the group didn’t have to worry about her trying to “get rid” of the museum and that she wanted to support it.

“I grew up in DeKalb County, I’ve been to Stone Mountain, so I know about the Confederacy,” Clemmons said. “Whether you agreed with (the museum) or not, I supported it because it was history.”

Pettitt acknowledged that Clemmons had shown support for the farm in the past.

“She didn’t say, ‘Take ‘em down’ as a candidate,” Pettitt said, referring to the Confederate flag. “Quite the opposite. She was excited for what we were doing,” Pettitt said.

The issue of the flag came up earlier this year, within the first few months of Clemmons’ term. Three flags flew in front of the museum: the U.S. flag; the Georgia state flag—which incorporates elements of one of several flags of the Confederacy; and the second national flag of the Confederacy—which incorporates the Confederate Battle Flag set in a white background. It was the second national flag that bothered Clemmons. She said she’d gotten complaints from constituents about it. The flag has been a lightning rod for complaints for decades, but even more so in the last two years after the Charleston massacre by white supremacist Dylann Roof. Roof has been sentenced to death for the murders on those nine African-American church-goers.

Detail of a re-enactor’s belt buckle at Nash Farm Battlefield in 2014. (By permission, taken from Nash Farm Battlefield Facebook page)

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Clemmons said she thought it inappropriate for the Confederate flag to fly on county property, even on a battlefield. She denied, however, telling Pettitt or Bill Dodd, who oversaw the museum, to remove the flag. She said she mentioned it only to her staff. Eventually a parks and recreation crew showed up at the museum, took down the flag and gave it to Dodd with instructions to keep it inside the building along with the other war relics, Pettitt said.

Dodd declined comment.

Then about two weeks ago, Clemmons said, she was invited to attend an event at the museum honoring students who’d won an essay contest about the war. Before she went inside, she noticed from a street-side window two Confederate flags inside “the gift shop.”

“I asked they be removed from the window,” Clemmons said. “The next thing I know, this is what they come up with.”

In another Facebook post to supporters, the Friends of Nash Farm wrote this account.

“Clemmons came on May 13, 2017 to Nash Farm Battlefield Museum as a guest for an event and dictated to us to remove ALL Confederate flags from inside the museum,” the post read.

Within days, the board met and the major donor of the relics decided he’d had enough, Pettitt said. The donor, who Pettitt declined to identify, pulled his artifacts. All that was left was “a few bullets and a lot of iron and a lot of pretty, empty cases,” he said.

So, a week and a half ago, the museum stopped admitting guests.

Wednesday morning, the remaining donors picked up their articles, and the place closed for good. The county owns only a handful of the items. It’s unclear where those items will be stored. Clemmons said no one from the board called her to request a meeting or to discuss what the Nash representatives saw as an impasse.

“I felt it was a history museum, it was beautiful,” she said. “What was going on inside, I had no problem with.”

But in a May 1 email to county commission chair June Wood, a Republican who is also an African-American woman, Clemmons outlined her plans to expand the park into a health and wellness destination, which included a partnership with the Nash Farms’ board. She did not detail how that would have been accomplished.

All of the hurt and anger might have been avoided if there had been a conversation before the board and donor made their decision, she said.

“Instead, they packed up their stuff and created this division and havoc in the community,” Clemmons said.

Note: Comments for this article are being moderated by an AJC editor.