About 40 people attended Saturday’s rally organized by BLM Allies of New Gloucester. The group also wants AMVETS to stop flying the Confederate flag at the Memorial Day parade. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

NEW GLOUCESTER — The newly formed BLM Allies of New Gloucester has called upon the local AMVETS post to stop displaying the Confederate flag during the Memorial Day Parade.

The group held its first Black Lives Matter rally with about 40 participants last Saturday at the Coolidge Family Farm on Lewiston Road. The demonstration marked two months since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, an event that has prompted Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.

Cameron Dufty, an organizer of BLM Allies of New Gloucester, says protests like the one held July 25 will be held locally every month on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Patti Mikkelson / For Lakes Region Weekly

Before the July 25 rally, the group sent a letter to Jeff Hamilton, a member of the Lunn-Hunnewell AMVETS Post 6, about its use of the Confederate flag, said organizer Cameron Dufty. She said a member of the BLM Allies was in contact with Hamilton beforehand, who agreed to pass the letter on to the larger group.

“To fly the Confederate flag under the guise of heritage and history is perplexing in a state that fought against the Confederacy … If the AMVETS continues to fly the Confederate flag, even with the intention of representing heritage, it is also – perhaps unwittingly –making the choice to promote a symbol of hate, racism, white supremacy, and a historical rebellion in favor of the institution of slavery,” read the letter, which was signed by 42 residents.

Dufty said the only response they have received is from Jerry Dewitt, who is the state commander of the AMVETS Department of Maine. She was unclear how the letter ended up with Dewitt.

The Confederate flag is displayed by reenactors of the 15th Alabama Company G at the 2018 New Gloucester Memorial Day parade. Ellie Fellers / Sun Journal file photo

In his written response to the letter, Dewitt said that as non-members, the BLM Allies of New Gloucester do not have a say in which flags are flown during the parade.

He told the Lakes Region Weekly: “There is no race issue that I am aware of. If they choose to make the 2019 Memorial Day parade a political race issue in 2021, they can stay home.”

“Memorial Day remembers the military men and women that served our country and have passed on. That includes the veterans from the Civil War, both North and South,” he said. “Those of us that do the fighting for this country feel if we don’t learn from the past we are destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future.”

Dufty said the while the group will discuss further action at their next virtual meeting, “the signature on the letter was solely from Mr. Dewitt so it’s unclear if his comments present his own beliefs or if he responded on behalf of all New Gloucester veterans.”

Heidi Maclean-Marafa holds a sign that reads “Is my son, daughter, husband next?” She was joined at the July 25 protest by her husband, Abdul, and their four children: Nadir, 11; Malik, 7; Kyda, 4; and Zayda, 15 months. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

In addition to being flown in the annual New Gloucester parade, the Confederate flag was used by reenactors of the 15th Alabama Company G, a Confederate Army unit, at a 2018 parade event. The 15th Alabama Company G is perhaps most famous for its attack on the Union Army’s 20th Maine Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg.

BLM Allies of New Gloucester vows to rally every month on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, Dufty said.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of racism visible in New Gloucester so we’re trying to make the voices of anti-racism heard as well and let the Black community know it’s not just racist here,” she said.

When asked about specific instances of racism in town, Dufty said, “I don’t want to give racism in New Gloucester any bigger voice, so I’d prefer not to give examples. We are focused on using our voices to offer support and solidarity with the Black community.”

At the July 25 demonstration, protesters held signs that read “We started racism, we must end it,” and “New Gloucester stands together,” among other calls to action. Protestors, many wearing black, held up their signs as cars drove by, some honking in support.

“It still feels good to stand in unity even though we live in a small town,” said Nichole Stevens. “We started a group of New Gloucester residents that were really moved by recent events and we decided that even though we live in a small town, we wanted to organize … and help change the dialogue and effect change.”

Stevens said that she’s heard of some vandalism of “Black Lives Matter” signs in town, but “that only drives us to do more.”

Tony Castro said that while he’s been very active on social media in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, his concerns over COVID-19 prevented him from attending protests in Portland. Saturday’s rally was different, though, because “it’s my town.”

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