ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The “Stars and Bars” came down quietly Monday afternoon.
The old Confederate flag – flown above Old Town Albuquerque for decades – is now in the hands of its private owner, who the city said will remain anonymous.
Mayor Richard Berry decided to remove the flag Monday after meeting last week with African-American leaders.
The city, he said, will still mark its role in the Civil War by keeping replica cannons and plaques that accurately describe the “Skirmish of Albuquerque,” when Confederate and Union soldiers exchanged artillery fire.
Biased or inaccurate plaques will be removed, the mayor said.
“We should never ignore our history,” Berry said in a written statement, “but we should also recognize and display our history in a way that is respectful to all those who it represents. By striking this balance, it is my hope that we can work through this debate as a community and build a strong foundation for future discussions of importance to us all.”
Debate over the Confederate flag exploded across the country this summer after a white gunman killed nine black church members at a Bible study in South Carolina. The gunman had posed with Confederate flags.
The version of the flag flown in Albuquerque, however, was not the well-known Confederate battle flag. Instead, Old Town was home to an early version of the Confederate flag known as the “Stars and Bars.”
The flag above Old Town had seven stars with a blue background, next to red and white stripes.
The Albuquerque debate surfaced last month when two state lawmakers, a city councilor and others called for removing Confederate tributes displayed in Old Town.
Michael Jefferson, elder and founder of Procession Ministry, led the news conference two weeks ago. He commended the mayor Monday for removing the flag and some plaques but said Berry didn’t go far enough.
The replica cannons and cannon plaque should be removed, too, Jefferson said. The plaque offers a sanitized version of history, he said, omitting pro-slavery views.
“We continue to believe that the replica cannons used by the Confederate Army in Old Town and the accompanying plaque must be removed because of their historical inaccuracy and bias toward the Confederate Army,” Jefferson said.
A representative of the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans said he was disappointed to hear of the flag’s removal and hopes the mayor will reconsider. The exhibits and flags had been there for years without objection, and it’s important to avoid erasing history, said Jim Houghton, a North Valley resident and New Mexico division commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans
“Removing history from the public view in the venue where it should be – the Old Town Plaza – is both wrong and dangerous for a free society,” Houghton said. “Removing plaques that have been peacefully placed and enjoyed by all because someone now feels they ‘imply bias’ is even more dangerous.
“Historical accounts always reflect some bias. Our free society demands that those viewpoints have a right to be heard and expressed.”
The Confederate flag was one of five flags above Old Town, intended to represent Albuquerque’s “five governing entities” since the city’s founding in 1706, according to the city.
The “Stars and Bars” flag was a reminder that Texas Confederates had invaded and then occupied Old Town for about six weeks in 1862, according to the city Cultural Services Department.
The other flags on the plaza represent Spain, Mexico, the United States of America and the state of New Mexico.
City crews removed the Confederate flag Monday afternoon, about the same time the mayor announced his decision on Twitter. It’s been replaced with a city of Albuquerque flag.
Berry, in a written statement, urged people on both sides of the debate to consider the feelings of others.
Supporters of the flag, he said, should recognize that some people view it “as a celebration of an ideology that did not recognize all men as equal and an affront to those who died to ensure freedom for all.”
On the other hand, Berry said, opponents of the flag ought to “consider that Albuquerque and New Mexico played an important and historically significant role in turning back Confederate plans for westward expansion, and there is merit in honoring the role we played at the place where that history took place.”
Berry said he expects the city to leave up the large, main plaque that explains the presence of the replica cannons, allowing people to read about Albuquerque’s Civil War history. Two smaller plaques elsewhere in the plaza may be removed for inaccuracy or bias.