Confederate Sons Welcome a Black Member: Joined `to Honor My Family History'

Article excerpt

BALTIMORE - The Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans inducted their first black member yesterday, three weeks after the state Motor Vehicle Administration banned the nonprofit organization's symbol, a Confederate battle flag, from members' vanity plates.

Anthony Cohen, 33, a historian from Silver Spring, was inducted along with six others during an annual birthday celebrations for Gens. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Inductees were sworn in with a salute to the Confederate flag.

"I came to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor my family history," said Mr. Cohen, as he stood in front a statue depicting Jackson and Lee riding on horseback at Johns Hopkins University. "I have been familiar with the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the last 30 years."

The flap over the group's symbol began three weeks ago when several prominent blacks in Maryland complained that the group's Confederate battle flag logo on the special MVA-issued license plates was offensive and promoted racism.

But Mr. Cohen disagrees.

Although hate groups use the Confederate flag as a hate symbol it does not represent racism, he said.

"I feel that African-Americans can clearly distinguish between symbols and people who bear the symbol," Mr. Cohen said. "It's time to look at people who bear the symbol."

Despite the recent flag flap, Sons of Confederate leader Patrick J. Griffin III, said the induction was not an attempt to highlight the group's fight for the use of their symbol.

"We had a number of people to induct, [and] we felt it would be appropriate to induct them here than at a normal camp meeting," Mr. Griffin said.

New members were inducted before a small crowd of supporters who came to pay tribute to the generals. The ceremony followed a re-enactment of a Confederate Army march and a salute to the Confederate flag.

In order to join the 101-year-old organization, applicants must prove they have a descendant who fought for the Confederacy. About 25,000 active members belong to 600 camps - or chapters - across the country, one camp in Europe and one in Brazil. The Maryland division has about 450 members, Mr. Griffin said.

Mr. Cohen is not the first black in the national organization. …