Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said flags at the Riverfront Park were initially removed because they were faded and tattered, but Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen says it has always been part of an effort to “cancel our history.”
Since late 2001, the Fort Smith Parks Department has displayed flags at the Riverfront Park that represented the governments that ruled over what is now Fort Smith. The flags are, according to the city:
• French Fleur-De-Lis Flag (1682-1763)
• Spanish Cross of Burgundy Flag (1763-1800)
• French National Flag (1803 Louisiana Territory)
• U.S. 15-Star Flag (1805-1812 Territory of Louisiana)
• U.S. 20-Star Flag (1812-1819 Territory of Missouri)
• U.S. 24-Star Flag (1812, Arkansas from Missouri Territory)
• Confederate States of America Flag (1861-1863).
The area also has three other flag poles that display the U.S. flag and the Arkansas flag. The city statement issued late Friday (Sept. 4) said the city spends around $4,000 a year on flag maintenance and replacement.
The city also provided the following timeline about removal of the Riverfront Park flags.
• January 2020
Parks staff surveyed the condition of all of the flags at the Riverfront Park and noted several of the flags were faded and tattered.
• February 2020
Park staff began the procurement process required to replace the historic flags at Riverfront Park.
• March 2020
Park staff confirmed an order to replace several of the flags; which included an order of the two U.S. flags, one State of Arkansas flag, one 20-star American flag, and one Spanish Cross of Burgundy flag. The vendor could not supply a replacement for the Confederate flag because their manufacturer no longer produced Confederate flags.
• April 2020
In keeping with flag-flying protocol, Parks staff temporarily removed all of the flags in the historical display, as well as the large U.S. flag that flew near the skate park, because the flags needed replacing due to their tattered and weathered condition.
• July 2020
Parks staff placed an order for a weighted cable needed to re-install and fly the U.S. flag near the skate park. Earlier this week, the large U.S. flag near the skate park was reinstalled.
The flags ordered in March are expected to be delivered by the end of next week, noted the Friday statement from Geffken’s office. Geffken also acknowledged that replacing the Confederate flag is under discussion.
“In light of recent racially historic events that have taken place across the country, the City is reconsidering the re-installation of the historical flags and approaching the re-installation plan with sensitivity and empathy for many who find the historical associations with the Confederate flag hurtful or hateful,” noted Geffken’s memo. “Parks staff continues to have discussion with the City Administrator on how to reinstate the flag display at Riverfront Park, while best serving the Fort Smith community. No final decision or recommendation has been made at this time.”
McCutchen, who led the unsuccessful effort to keep the Rebel mascot at Southside High School in Fort Smith and recently was part of the successful plan to relocate a Confederate monument from the Bentonville city square to a cemetery in that city, alleges it has always been Geffken’s plan to remove the Confederate flag.
“Fort Smith was occupied by the Confederacy for almost two years. It’s our history and why should Carl Geffken attempt to cancel our history by taking down historic flags which have flown … by various ruling governments,” McCutchen said in a Facebook post. “The decision was made by June 23 that historic flags would not be flown and/or that all flags including US flag and Ark flag would be removed. The decision was made by Mr Geffken in secret email chains and/or discussions without public discussion or input-zero transparency. The city can try and spin this as they wish, but documents paint a much different picture.”