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Confederate flag controversy spurs changes to Return Day parade

US Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester rides alone in a convertible during Georgetown's Return Day parade on Thursday.
Paul Kiefer
/
Delaware Public Media
US Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester rode the parade route in a car during Georgetown's Return Day celebration on Thursday; her opponent, Republican Lee Murphy, was one of only three candidates who opted to ride in a carriage.

Crowds packed Georgetown for Return Day, but most candidates passed on the tradition of riding in parade carriages with their opponents.

The change largely reflects a controversy surrounding the museum that provides many of the carriages.

Only three candidates – Republican US House candidate Lee Murphy and Republican Senators Gerald Hocker and Dave Wilson – appeared in carriages; Wilson's bore a sign noting that he is the carriage's owner. Wilson and Hocker ran unopposed, so they had no opponent to join them. Murphy’s opponent, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, chose to ride the parade route in a car.

In the past, most candidates appeared in carriages, some of which were provided by the Marvel Carriage Museum. The museum currently faces criticism from civil rights groups and political leaders for flying a Confederate flag at a memorial for Delawareans who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The Delaware Democratic Party Executive Committee asked its candidates not to ride in the carriages. 6th District Senator-elect Russ Huxtable – one of two newly elected Sussex County Democratic lawmakers – pointed out that most Republican candidates also avoided the carriages this year.

“There were a lot of candidates this year from both sides who didn’t take the carriages," he said. "I don’t know if there was greater momentum behind that or not. People were fairly conscious of what that flag represents, wanting to take the stance that if we’re burying the hatchet, let’s move on.”

Georgetown Mayor Bill West also opted not to ride in a carriage. He says the Confederate flag controversy prompted some to avoid Return Day altogether.

“We’ve just got to get this taken care of," he said. "If that flag had been taken down prior to last week, this place would have been twice as big – I guarantee that. That flag has hurt a lot of people.”

The flag also made an appearance at the parade, carried by the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

And unlike past years, hardly any candidates rode the parade route alongside their opponent.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.