SOCORRO — In recreating the Battles for Socorro — which resulted in the Confederate Army gaining temporary control of the city for about nine weeks 150 years ago — re-enactors portraying Confederate soldiers on Feb. 24 took down the American flag in front of city hall, and replaced it with the “First National” flag of the Confederacy.
In light of the controversy around the dedication of a Confederate memorial in the Socorro Cemetery that same afternoon, the re-enactors may have gone a bridge too far.
“There are things that are going on that I want to say, they need to stop and talk with the city administration,” Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker said at the March 5 city council meeting.
Charles Mandeville, local re-enactor and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said they’ve been running up the First National on the city flagpole for 15 years. In the past they haven’t had to take down the American flag first, he said, but they did it carefully, and with respect.
“I folded it and made sure it didn’t touch the ground,” Mandeville said. “We raise the flag every year as part of the Battle for Socorro. We leave it up for a couple of hours and then we take it down.”
At the meeting, Bhasker told the council he feels the city should withdraw its support for the annual Civil War events until or unless some issues can be resolved.
“The land where the memorial is may or may not belong to the city,” Bhasker said. “And evidently, there’s a lot of dirtwork being done by the people who put up the monument. If that’s their private property they can do what they want, but we need to see the legal description.”
The mayor said he doesn’t have anything against the Sons of Confederate Veterans using the cemetery for burial, but after an email exchange with one of the organizations members, he thinks their cause goes beyond honoring their dead.
“His comments really, in my mind, were off the deep end,” Bhasker said. “They did not fit in with what we should do as a city or a government.”
City Clerk Pat Salome said the city hasn’t gone through the legal requirements to take over the cemetery from the now defunct Socorro Cemetery Association and is still trying to determine what parts are privately owned.
“If it’s private land it’s one thing, but if it’s public land, I’m not in favor of their being allowed to fly a Confederate flag there,” Bhasker said. “As mayor, I don’t support that. To my mind it’s glorifying something that this country doesn’t stand for, inequality. We stand for the freedom of all peoples.”
The mayor’s comments met with some resistance from Councilor Gordy Hicks, who said both sides of the issue need to be out there for everyone to see.
“I don’t think we can have one without the other,” Hicks said. “I don’t see how we can turn the cheek against the other side.”
Bhasker reminded Hicks that the Union side won.
“I’m not a historian, but to my mind, the Civil War was about two issues — that for somebody to own somebody is wrong, and it was about having the union dissolved,” Bhasker said. “The monument signifies a lot above and beyond people being buried in that cemetery. I’m not going to support that as a public official. I don’t think we need to be going down that trail.”
Salome reminded the council that the cemetery has been privately run since 1903.
“A hundred years later, they said they can’t do that any more,” Salome said. “The questions about the flag and private ownership and who gets to decide where the roads go, we’re trying to unravel it. We need to figure out what’s there before we can decide what to do with it. But I think it’s kind of disgraceful, what they did to our flag.”
The mayor agreed with Salome.
“That can’t happen,” he said. “We’re not against decent and respectful burial of family members — we’re for that. What I’m talking about is the bigger issue.”
After the meeting, Salome said that having a legal description of the plot given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans may not completely resolve the ownership issue, even if the deed was signed before the cemetery association gave the cemetery back to the city. He said the cemetery association may have in fact lost its non-profit corporate status in the 1970s, raising the question of whether the association’s representative had the right to give the land away.