The same people who came to Charlottesville earlier this year to defend the city holiday honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, which City Council axed March 2, now plan to raise a Confederate flag on private property here.
“Any time people try to take something away from our heritage, we try to put something back,” said Mechanicsville resident Grayson Jennings, a member of Virginia Flaggers, a group that promotes Confederate history and heritage, and honors Confederate vets, according to its website.
The Flaggers ran an eighth-page ad March 18 in The Daily Progress seeking roadside land for a Confederate flag memorial, and Jennings said he got four calls offering up potential flagpole sites, “no thanks to y’all.” C-VILLE Weekly did not accept an ad from the group. “We gave [the Progress] $500,” he said.
Virginia Flaggers put up a flagpole on I-95 north of Fredericksburg last summer, and just this past weekend on March 28, raised a giant 20′ by 30′ battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, also known as the Southern Cross, on an 80-foot pole on I-81 northeast of Lexington. It’s the second one the group has placed in Lexington after Washington and Lee University removed Confederate flags from Lee Chapel last summer.
Jennings said the flagpoles are expensive. The 80-footer cost $6,000, and installing it cost another $1,200. The as-yet-undetermined Charlottesville area flagpole could be 50 or 60 feet, Jennings estimated, and funding it is not a concern.
“We’ve got people from all over who donate,” said Jennings, mentioning a recent $1,000 gift.
Jennings scoffs at the notion that some people see the Confederate flag as a racist symbol. “A lot of people want to make it the same as the Nazi flag,” he said.
Local civil rights legend Eugene Williams disagrees with those who claim the Confederate flag is not racist. “To my knowledge, the Confederate flag has never served a purpose of improving race relations. I think it’s very distasteful for the Confederate flag to be here in Charlottesville at a time when there’s so much talk about improving race relations. It’s a real step backwards.”
Williams also said he believes a Confederate flag would deter tourism, new business and admissions, both white and black, to the University of Virginia. And following the bloody arrest of Martese Johnson, a black UVA student, by white ABC officers, such a banner “will fuel the fact that racism is still alive,” he said.
It’s not the first time a Southern Cross has flown in a Charlottesville neighborhood where one man’s honoring of family heritage is another man’s symbol of slavery, racism and discrimination.
For years Quality Welding owner Lewis Dickerson proudly flew the battle flag in front of his business on Harris Street, while his African-American neighbors had to live with what many of them considered an offensive symbol flying in their neighborhood. The flag is no longer flying, and Dickerson did not immediately return a phone call from C-VILLE.
Flying a Confederate flag on private property is “unquestionably” protected First Amendment speech, said Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead. Cities can regulate the display of flags for aesthetics or safety, but not for content, he said.
City Councilor Kristin Szakos, who has suggested it might be time to get rid of statues of Lee and Jackson in downtown parks, said she finds it “petty” that the Flaggers want to put up a flagpole here “because they’re not from Charlottesville. Why they care, I don’t know.”