Confederate flag may stay aloft

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have raised the Confederate flag that is flying near Interstates 4 and 75 several times this year.

CARRIE PRATT | Times

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have raised the Confederate flag that is flying near Interstates 4 and 75 several times this year.

TAMPA — The giant Confederate flag near Interstates 75 and 4 has been flying for nearly two weeks, and this time it is likely to stay aloft, backers say.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans first raised the banner for 20 minutes on April 1, and then again on June 3 and on Flag Day, June 14, on private property where they were building a monument to honor Confederate soldiers. They have put it up and lowered it three times, never flying it for more than a day or so.

The group raised it again Aug. 24 to commemorate the death of an outspoken flag advocate, and it has been up ever since.

"My hunch, my gut feeling, is that it will probably stay up," said Marion Lambert, who spearheaded the memorial park on U.S. 92, just west of Interstate 75.

After a series of choreographed media events and the glare of national exposure, the most recent, ongoing display of the flag occurred with almost no fanfare. But people are noticing just the same.

"My phone has been ringing the last two weeks nonstop," said Michelle Williams, a community activist who opposes the flag. "They want to know why the flag is still flying."

After the flag went up in August, University of South Florida sociologist H. Roy Kaplan asked his 200 students if they had seen it. Three-quarters of them had.

A former head of the National Conference for Community and Justice, Kaplan at one time offered to help negotiate a compromise between opponents and proponents of the Confederate flag monument.

"I was periodically involved," Kaplan said, "but I backed off when I saw that there were other initiatives afoot."

Lambert said other civic groups have approached him since June, trying to broker an agreement. Those efforts stalled after Lambert expressed his reluctance to meet with NAACP officials.

In fact, the flag might have come down by now, had its supporters not been miffed by a failed effort to defend the flag at an NAACP membership meeting.

"They booed me down," said Al Mccray, who resigned his NAACP membership a few days after trying to present the "true meaning of the Confederate flag."

Mccray's treatment angered the Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose members decided to delay plans to lower the flag. The decision to let it remain up came almost by default, Lambert said.

"We just love seeing that flag flying high," he said. "It's exhilarating."

Despite its visibility, the flag might not be quite the lightning rod it was a few months ago, said Curtis Stokes, the president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP.

"When it first went up in June, we were flooded with calls," Stokes said. "But in the last incident we have had three calls."

Nonetheless, Stokes said he hopes to limit the prominence of a symbol many find racially divisive. "If that was a giant flag with a swastika on it, the Jewish community would be offended," he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Confederate flag may stay aloft 09/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 11:46am]

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