Monday, May 31, will be the first Memorial Day after a state commission agreed last fall to a policy discouraging display of the Confederate battle flag in historic cemeteries, where thousands of Civil War veterans are buried.
In October, Oregon's Commission on Historic Cemeteries adopted a position paper recommending the cemetery groups avoid displaying the battle flag on graves at the state's nearly 1,400 historic cemeteries. The commission's decision on the controversial flag is only advisory. It cannot require cemetery organizations to prevent the Confederate flag from being displayed.
Charlotte Lehan, a Wilsonville city councilor and a member of the state commission, said historic cemeteries wanted people would honor all military veterans with the U.S. flag this holiday weekend. Lehan, president of the Pleasant View Cemetery Association, said the Sherwood historic cemetery puts U.S. flags on all veterans' graves, regardless of which side they were on in the Civil War.
About 180 veterans are buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery, 17 were Civil War veterans, and three served in the Confederate army, she said. "We like to think only of our most noble wars (Revolution, Civil War, WWII, etc.) but remember we had some pretty sketchy land-grab wars as well (Mexican War, Spanish War)," Lehan said. "However, the individual soldier, who was not making those larger decisions, still served and sacrificed on behalf of those of us who did not."
The commission's policy paper was developed during more than a year of discussions, guided by Vice Chair Milo Reed, a Portland historian working for Multnomah County Library. The work intensified a year ago, during racial unrest and protests following the death of 46-year-old father of five George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Commission members called the Confederate battle flag a symbol of racism that should not be displayed. There are nearly 70 Confederate army veterans buried in more than two dozen Oregon historic cemeteries.
According to the October position paper, the commission "recommends that Confederate flags not be allowed to be flown in historic cemeteries during Memorial Day weekend celebrations, or at any other time."
"We do not support allowing flags in historic cemeteries that promote systemic racism, fear and oppression of anyone," according to the paper. "The use of the Confederate flag should not be allowed in historic cemeteries, as it is not a symbol that should be promoted."
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