Letter stops restaurant’s Confederate battle flag display
FARMINGTON - Owners of a local restaurant have decided to no longer display a Confederate flag out in front of their establishment in response to a letter to the editor that called for boycotting the establishment.
Farmington resident Daniel Salerno's letter posted here on Jan.7, complained of the flag's racist roots "of both slavery and open rebellion against the United States of America." He said flying the Confederate flag featuring the Southern Cross out front of GrantLee's 20th Maine Tavern & Grill on Fairbanks Road (Routes 4&27) in Farmington was "a disgrace," particularly, he said, when considering it's the home state of Joshua L. Chamberlain, a Maine native who led the 20th Maine Infantry in the brutal Civil War battle to hold Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Penn.
"I now imagine what Chamberlain and his men would think to see a business in their very own Maine flying the noxious flag of both slavery and open rebellion against the United States of America," Salerno wrote.
Vicki Bates, who owns GrantLee's with her husband Richard Bates, said they decided to no longer fly the Confederate battle flag out front of their restaurant because they "don't want to offend anyone."
"We don't want to rock any boats," she said. "We're just trying to run a business here."
Since they opened their Civil War-themed restaurant in September 2010 that specializes in a northern and southern-inspired menu with a heavy emphasis on smoked barbecue, they have daily displayed two Union and two Confederate flags across the front of their restaurant. In all, they have a total of 20 different battle flags they fly on a rotational basis, alongside the American stars and stripes they always display on the left most position, as they were instructed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars office in Washington D.C. They had called for instructions before opening the restaurant to find out the correct way to display the Civil War flags with the American flag.
The Bates family, including their daughter Danielle, decided to open up the restaurant featuring Civil War memorabilia in Farmington for reasons that included an extended family connection in the area, Richard Bates' avid interest in the Civil War period and the couple having lived in both the north and the south over the years.
GrantLee's, named for Civil War generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, features paintings of famous battle scenes, books, guns and other artifacts from the period displayed around the restaurant. The menu itself has facts from the war. Vicki Bates said they intended to provide a little history lesson to go with each meal.
Although all of the flags are battle flags, Bates said, it is the Confederate flag featuring the Southern Cross that has brought a few other complaints besides Salerno's recent letter.
"A couple of people were perturbed about the Confederate flag," Bates said. "One woman from New Vineyard was very, very offended." Bates invited the woman to the restaurant and explained the intent was to have on display artifacts from the Civil War period that include battle flags. "She looked around and said, 'Oh, I get it,'" Bates said.
Salerno, a University of Maine at Farmington literature instructor, said the restaurant's owners are making the right decision to no longer display the most infamous of the Confederate battle flags, which today remains a reminder of slavery and segregation. The Ku Klux Klan and other racist hate groups have marched with the flag.
Salerno said he didn't believe it was their intention to offend, but prominently displaying a symbol of racism at a business gives the perception that racism is tolerated and that reflects poorly on the town, he said.
"I am happy they were quick to make that decision and wish them nothing but the best," Salerno said.
"We love the area and we want our business to thrive," Bates said. "We weren't hanging that flag out because we're Southern sympathizers. I would hope Chamberlain would understand."