Huge Confederate Flag to Fly Over Tampa
50-by-30-Foot Symbol of Southern Cause to Fly at Private Site by Highway Crossroads
By DAVID SCHOETZ
June 2, 2008
The i's are dotted, t's are crossed and a 139-foot flagpole is ready to fly the Stars and Bars over one of the busiest highway interchanges in Florida.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Tampa plan soon to raise what they claim is the world's largest Confederate flag on a private triangle of land tucked near where Interstates 75 and 4 meet. The flag measures 50 feet by 30 feet.
John Adams, commander of the organization's Florida division, has spearheaded the flag project, which includes plans for an accompanying memorial park. And he wants to make sure that the only objections the group faces are based on opinion, not the law.
"You're going to hear some complaints about it for sure," Adams said. "But it's a free country as far as I know."
To some, particularly across many Southern states, the rebel flag represents a rich heritage that includes fighting and dying for the Confederate cause during the Civil War. To others, the flag represents dark memories attached to slavery and racial inequality.
One of those people is Curtis Stokes, president of the NAACP in Hillsborough County, who hopes that a groundswell of opposition to raising the flag might convince the Sons of Confederate Veterans to reconsider.
That's an unlikely scenario, according to Adams. Nearly a decade ago, the 220 members in the state's Sons of Confederate Veterans group launched a project called "Flags Across Florida" in response to a decision by state officials to remove the Confederate flag from a place of prominence near the state capitol in Tallahassee.
"Our members decided the trend is going to be that there's a major outlash against these being flown on public property, all we need to do is buy our own property and put them up there," Adams said.
The flag will be the group's third in the state, but will be not only the largest, but will also fly square in the middle of one of the most highly-trafficked intersections in the state. An estimated 124,000 cars pass by the highway ever day. The two Interstates link the Tampa Bay area to Orlando to the northeast and Miami to the south.
The pole, which will be anchored by a 100,000-pound concrete base, is the tallest the Federal Aviation Administration would allow in that spot. The 1,500-square-foot flag was ordered from a Chinese company after an American flagmaker begged off, citing union objections to making the flag. It will be illuminated by spotlights at night.
Adams said the project, which will cost an estimated $80,000, has been going through approvals with the Hillsborough County government for more than two years. The park that accompanies the flag will feature landscaping and parking as well as plaques detailing the state's historical contributions to the Confederacy. One will even pay tribute to the small group of black soldiers who fought on the Confederacy's behalf, Adams said.
Throughout the permitting process, Adams admits he never revealed to officials that it was the Confederate flag he intended to fly atop the pole. He had no reason to, he said. "The flag is political speech so it's not like they can do anything about it," he said. "You cannot simply discriminate because the message is one you don't like."
To Adams and members of his organization, the soldiers who fought and died for the Confederacy deserve the same historical deference as those who died fighting for the Union cause. They are veterans who fought for what they believed was right for the country, he said.
Hillsborough County and the state of Florida are both familiar with the differing opinions on the flag. In 1994, the county government removed the Confederate flag from the county seal.
Motorists in nine states can pay for a license plate bearing the logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — a design that incorporates the Stars and Bars. A similar proposal in Florida, however, so far has been unsuccessful. Still, the Sunshine State is one of just two states to celebrate the birthday of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, a state holiday that is held tomorrow, June 3. Adams said the group will honor the holiday by previewing the flag on Tuesday.
In popular culture, the Confederate flag has been celebrated — as a hood ornamentation on the General Lee in the television show "The Dukes of Hazzard" for example — but also used to depict racism and racist characters.
It is also listed in the Anti-Defamation League's database of hate symbols. "Although the flag is seen by some Southerners simply as a symbol of Southern pride, it is often used by racists to represent white domination of African-Americans," according to the Web site.
Stokes, the president of the local NAACP, told ABC News that the group will do what it can — including work with the county commissioners and county administrator to prevent the flag from flying. "We certainly understand the First Amendment rights they have, but as a county, that's not the way we want to move forward," Stokes said. "We don't want to revisit a dark part of our history because it doesn't represent the values of Hillsborough County."
Stokes acknowledged, however, that the group went to great lengths in to make sure they could legally raise the flag. "The've done everything they can on their side to make sure it was done legally," Stokes said. "But we would appeal to them directly. Is this something that they want to see depicted national and internationally about Hillsborough County?"
Preventing the flag raising, he said, will have to be a combined effort by residents and leaders of the county. "I think we're going to rise up as a diverse citizenry and show the Sons of the Confederate Veterans that this isn't something we want," he said.
Kevin White, the sole black member of the Hillsborough County Commission, oversees the area where the flag will fly. He said that he is "saddened and frustrated" by group's effort, but unsure if there is anything that can be done.
"It appears that if all of the permitting is legal, there isn't anything we're able to do except show a loud, vocal opposition and maybe bring some sense to people," White told ABC News. "The symbolism of what it stands for totally brings a negative connotation to the community as a whole."
White fears that drivers who might have planned a stop in Hillsborough County will drive right through when they see the massive flag. "They might have stopped for lodging or to get something to eat," White said. "Now they'll say, 'Maybe I'll just keep driving and get out of this county altogether.'"
Adams said that the flag is not meant to symbolize racial inequality. "Nobody's going to spend $80,000 to build a park to honor racism," he said. "We're building a park to honor veterans."
He also said that the group will consider filing a lawsuit if any attempt to restrict the flag were made by county officials.
"Telling me you can't fly the flag is like telling me you can't honor the Confederate dead," Adams said. "You can only honor the Union dead."
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