The Confederate battle flag is a symbol that often fuels gut and knee-jerk emotional reactions among those who fly it and those who see it fly.
Arguments stem from what exactly that flag actually symbolizes – Southern heritage and history or the endorsement of slavery and racial discrimination.
The North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has begun an initiative, titled “Flags Across the Carolinas.” It says the move is intended to encourage education about the banner.
The initiative calls for the raising of Confederate battle flags or “mega-sized” such flags in all 100 counties in state, said Kevin Stone, the commander of the N.C. Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
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“My goal is to have a mega flag, or a flag, in a high profile location everywhere — in every county across the state,” Stone said.
North Carolina is composed of 100 counties.
Flags Across the Carolinas defines a “mega flag” as one measuring approximately 20 feet by 30 feet in dimension.
The most recent step toward reaching the 100 county goal, Stone said, occurred with the raising of a mega flag over Interstate 40 last month in Burke County.
The Burke County flag is easily observed by travelers as it rises above a treeline bordering the stretch of I-40 where it flies.
The Burke County flag was the third raised as part of the statewide initiative, Stone said. The flags have been placed on private properties with the consent of the properties’ owners.
Last year, Flags Across the Carolinas raised mega flags over N.C. 16 in Catawba County and over I-95 in Cumberland County.
Stone said, as a policy, his organization does not reveal locations selected as future sites for its mega Confederate flags.
William O’Quinn is the acting brigade commander for the N.C. Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Capitol Brigade, charged with overseeing all Sons of Confederate Veterans activity within Durham, Orange, Granville, Person and Wake counties.
O’Quinn was asked if his group plans to erect a Confederate battle flag in the Triangle area.
“We plan on doing it,” O’Quinn said, “but there is not an immediate plan in the works right now.”
Would his brigade support a Confederate battle flag within the Triangle?
“Oh, yeah. We would support it,” O’Quinn said. “But we don’t support any kind of racist organizations or white extremists or anything like that. We’re genealogists.”
Membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces, according to the SCV. Membership can be obtained through either lineal or collateral family lines and kinship to a veteran must be documented genealogically.
“So – ha! – we’re kind of exclusive. Everybody just can’t get in,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn’s own research revealed dozens of relations linking him to Confederate infantrymen, he said, “I haven’t found a Yankee yet.”
Stone, too, vehemently insisted the Sons of Confederate Veterans is a heritage organization, primarily interested in honoring historical accuracies.
“Our primary mission is honoring our ancestors and getting the true history of the Confederate soldier and ‘The War Between the States’ out to the public,” Stone said.
But the Confederate flag has a long and controversial history and remains a divisive symbol.
Roland Stanton, president of the Durham branch of the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said the Confederate flag is anathema to expressions of freedom, justice and equality.
“It is a symbol of oppression, genocide and slavery,” Stanton said. “Where the Sons of the Confederacy is protected by First Amendment rights, what they are doing is abominable and shameful in the eyes of most free thinking people.”
LaTrandra Strong founded the Hate-Free Schools Coalition and led the recent endeavor to ban the Confederate flag, Ku Klux Klan symbols, clothing exhibiting Ku Klux Klan insignia and swastikas within the Orange County Schools district.
Strong readily admitted that under the rights bestowed by the First Amendment, that there isn’t much anyone can do in the way of combating the Sons of Confederate Veterans planting of flags on private lands.
Strong said due to a firm belief, that “this is America and you get to do what you want to do,” she’s previously hesitated to comment on matters involving the Confederate flags which weren’t tied to schools.
“But …,” she said, “this is an indication of the lengths people will go to use their power-access to evoke their opinions over others.
“That flag is a symbol of dominance over the people in those areas where they are,” Strong continued. “These are people [Sons of Confederate Veterans] who traditionally have said they’re for free speech. But they do not stand for all people to be free – only for those people that think, the way they do.”
Stone argues that the Confederate flags are about education.
“If we put a mega flag up somewhere and it gets publicity … then people might get on the internet and start digging around and looking and learning some history,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to point them in the right direction and educate the public.”
Whether Durham is soon to receive its own mega-sized Confederate battle flag, time – surely – will tell.