Camp reenacts Civil War battle on Juneteenth; director apologizes
By Rosanna Weaver
On June 20, many local residents had a day off work for the federal holiday of Juneteenth National Independence Day. This year, for the first time, the new federal holiday was also a City of Hyattsville holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when federal soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming emancipation for enslaved African Americans.
June 20 was also the first day of the eighth annual week-long history camp organized by Danny Flynn, principal of St. Jerome’s Academy, and held in Driskell Park.
Each year, the camp focuses on one of three wars, rotating between the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and the French and Indian War. This summer, campers studied the Civil War and engaged in a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, which originally took place July 1-3 of 1863. The Union (the North) won the battle, and it is considered an important turning point in the Civil War.
As part of the history camp, on June 20, a group of about 50 boys between the ages of 8 and 14 met in Driskell Park with several adult leaders. Some were dressed in Union uniforms, and others were assigned the roles of Confederate soldiers. The campers sometimes carried toy muskets.
Some residents who went to the park said they felt an extra gravity to a reenactment of this Civil War battle happening on the same day as Juneteenth. They said they found it an offensive use of public land.
At least one parkgoer saw the large number of predominantly white boys at the camp event with their muskets and presumed that a white supremacist rally had been organized.
Residents and parents of participants spoke with the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T) about their impressions of the event, but most were reluctant to have their names put in the newspaper, fearing conflict with other community members.
According to several resident reports, mid-afternoon, a man began filming, then talking with and, ultimately, yelling at the campers and their leaders, apparently furious about the reenactment. After the campers had left the area, this person reportedly vandalized campers’ property and attempted to let air out of the tires of at least one car.
The next day, the camp moved to private property in Bowie for the remainder of the week, where another installment of the history camp is typically held.
City Communications Officer Cindy Zork responded to an HL&T inquiry, saying, “The camp was using open space in Driskell Park and did not require a City permit. HCPD [Hyattsville City Police Department] was called to the scene during the camp, and an investigation is still ongoing.”
At least one parent did not want to talk about the issues that had bothered community members until the person who vandalized the camp site was found. “Nothing is more important than protecting our children from violence,” Hyattsville resident Matt Bowman wrote in a statement to the paper, “so there should be no higher priority for city officials than to find this disturbed man.”
City Councilmember Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) — who notes that she sees part of her role as “to bring folks together to discuss and resolve tough issues” — said she heard from several distressed residents. She reached out and set up meetings to discuss the situation.
“Mayor [Robert] Croslin and I met with Danny Flynn, who organizes the annual history camp outside of his role as Principal of St. Jerome Academy, and St. Jerome’s pastor, Father Scott Hahn,” Waszczak wrote in a statement. “We focused our conversation on a shared priority — that Hyattsville is a diverse, inclusive community where kids and residents of all ages are safe to play, learn and grow.”
Waszczak added, “I’m grateful that we started this important conversation. The four of us committed to deepening our dialogue, increasing awareness of Juneteenth, and building cultural sensitivity and humility in our community.”
In an email to the HL&T, Flynn said, “On behalf of the summer history camp, I sincerely apologize for the insensitive planning of our camp taking place in Driskell Park on this year’s honoring of Juneteenth.”