CRD Metalworks in Williamsburg criticized for flying Confederate flag in wake of AME Church shooting; owner says flag is not racist



Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2015

WILLIAMSBURG — The owner of CRD Metalworks is not surprised that his decision to install two Confederate flags on his Hyde Hill Road property is being criticized by some residents who see it as a racist symbol.

But he says race has nothing to do with his reason for flying the banner.

“There’s no specific reason,” Chris Duval said Friday of his decision. “Just controversy.”

Duval eventually elaborated, saying he was spurred to fly the flag after people called for Confederate flags to come down in the wake of the June 17 shooting that killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I don’t think that it’s right to ask someone to take it down, whether in South Carolina or here,” he said while having lunch Friday with his employees — several of whom chimed in to support his sentiments.

One flag flies atop a pole in front of his house at 15 Hyde Hill Road, along with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and the flag of Colombia, where his wife, Rosana, is from. He and his employees also created a large metal version of the Confederate flag a week ago and hung it on the side of the shop, located behind his house.

“In all honesty, it doesn’t represent anything to me,” Duval said — and certainly not racism. “Just because some nut killed black people and now it’s associated with it? It’s bull---- in my opinion.”

But some Williamsburg residents argue that the flag has always been a symbol for racism, and 44 of them signed a letter to the editor sent to the Gazette asking Duval to take down the flag. Mountain Road resident Zevey Steinitz wrote the letter after she saw a photograph of the CRD Metalworks flag on Facebook.

“I believe it is associated with hate and felt as a concerned citizen that I’d write a letter of protest,” Steinitz said in a telephone interview Friday. She said she also mailed a letter Friday to Duval, asking him to consider taking down the flag and offering to meet and talk with him about it.

“I do believe in free speech. I do believe he should be able to fly flags of his choosing. However, that one is patently offensive to many in our community,” Steinitz said.

She said she visited local businesses and downtown locations seeking signatures to give her letter more clout. While she said many people said they agreed with her, they declined to put their name on it.

Unbeknownst to her, an employee of one of those businesses sent a photo of the letter to a CRD Metalworks employee, who posted it on the “All Things Williamsburg” Facebook page. The post sparked a heated debate — up to 126 comments as of Friday afternoon. Some posters argued, as Duval does, that the flag does not symbolize racism.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the letter would touch a nerve, but the comments did surprise me,” Steinitz said. “There is sort of a fascinating lack of knowledge about what the flag means.”

Duval disputed that interpretation, saying that from what he has read about the Civil War, the conflict was “more about land and money than slaves.”

Flag’s meaning

The Confederate flag on South Carolina Statehouse grounds was taken down Friday in response to renewed calls for its removal in the wake of the killings at the AME Church. All of the shooting’s victims were black, and 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof — who is white and has appeared in photographs with the flag — is charged in their deaths. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting Charleston police chief Greg Mullen called the incident a hate crime.

While opponents of the flag say it is racist, supporters say it is a sign of rebellion or southern pride, or that it pays tribute to those killed in the Civil War.

Robert Forrant, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said Friday that any argument that the war and flag have nothing to do with race is incorrect.

“Obviously it’s incredibly complicated, but the Civil War, most historians would agree, was fought essentially to defend slavery and extend slavery,” Forrant said Friday. Slavery was illegal in the North and legal in the South, he said, and the federal government was at odds with southern states over whether newly annexed western states would be “slave states.”

After the war, the flag of the Confederacy was used to decorate the graves of deceased Confederate soldiers and at memorials, Forrant said. It mostly disappeared, with a few exceptions — the Ku Klux Klan flew the banner at marches and rallies.

The flag only started to be flown over southern statehouses and other public buildings in 1948, when President Harry Truman started enforcing civil rights legislation passed by Congress. “The flag was used then as a way to protest,” Forrant said.

The flags went back up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Forrant said, essentially in protest of civil rights. When the flag was raised at South Carolina’s capitol in 1961, officials said it was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, according to Forrant.

“But the civil rights movement was really gaining momentum then,” he said. “It was not an accident that it reappeared at that time.”

Forrant said people will never agree on the flag’s meaning, but most historians acknowledge that the flag was historically flown to protest freedom — and later rights — for African-Americans. “I can’t think of any other way to look at the flag,” he said.

At odds in Williamsburg

Duval is not new to controversy. He has been involved in a dispute with his neighbors over target shooting on his property, and, more recently, about his seeking a special permit to expand his business.

He said that while he did not fly the flag to annoy his neighbors, he is not going to take it down even if it offends them. As for whether the flag represents racism, he said, “Not to me, because I’m not racist.”

Duval said the metal designs he has hung on his barn are all about controversy in one way or the other. He said he installed two images of assault rifles in response to calls for gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and put up a New England Patriots logo after the team was accused of deflating footballs in this year’s American Football Conference championship game.

He and his employees were considering what their next project should be when the Confederate flag controversy surfaced in the wake of the Charleston shooting.

Robert Parker, one of Duval’s 14 employees, said the metal Confederate flag was the obvious choice for the next controversial decoration. “That’s why it’s up there — because people said it was rude and offensive,” he said.

Employee Bill Parker said his teenage daughter recently told him she thought the flag represented racism and he explained the history of the flag and the other ideas it represents. For a lot of people in the Hilltowns, he said, it’s a symbol of being a “redneck.”

Duval said no one has stopped by or contacted him about the flag. Steinitz said she does not know Duval and has no issue with him or his business. “I think it’s great they employ people in town,” she said.

“I hope they take it down, I really do. I don’t think it’s appropriate to fly that flag — but I don’t really expect them to take it down,” she continued, adding, “I think there’s a lot of unexamined racism going on, and I’d like the people flying the flag to examine their own views.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 


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