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Confederate group plans giant flag in Hillsborough County

TAMPA — Next year, a giant Confederate flag may tower above the tree line near the junction of Interstate 75 and Interstate 4.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans wants drivers in the Tampa area to see the massive flag — 30 feet high and 50 feet long — atop a 139-foot pole, the highest the Federal Aviation Authority would allow. It would be lit at night.

With the pole already in the ground and building permits in hand, the group is on its way to having what it calls the "world's largest" Confederate flag in place by mid 2009. The group just needs about $30,000 more, said Douglas Dawson, Florida division commander.

Several nearby business owners don't mind. It's history, they say, and it's on private property. Tampa resident Marion Lambert owns the small triangular plot just west of Interstate 75 along U.S. 92 E.

But when Hillsborough County NAACP president Curtis Stokes heard about the plans to have the flag flying next year, he was shocked.

"I'm surprised that they would allow something like this to go on in Hillsborough County," he said.

The county has wrestled with sensitive Confederate issues in the past. In 1994, the Confederate flag was removed from the county seal. Last year, county commissioners recognized Confederate commander Robert E. Lee on the same day they honored a black civic leader. Commissioners later apologized and haven't since recognized Lee.

It's the commissioners' responsibility to make sure plans don't move forward, Stokes said. The flag would send the wrong message about the county and it would be embarrassing because many visitors use the roads, he said.

Code enforcement officers won't be able to stop the project because flags were removed from county sign regulations in 2004. County Commissioner Kevin White, whose district includes the flagpole site, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Plans for the flag, which is part of a memorial for Confederate veterans, started about four years ago, said John W. Adams, a Deltona resident who co-chairs the Confederate Veterans' Flags Across Florida project.

Flags Across Florida started about eight years ago, after the Confederate flag was removed from the Capitol in Tallahassee. So far the group has two major flags erected: one in Suwannee County along Interstate 75 and one in Havana along U.S. 27.

Adams insists the flag isn't about racism or slavery. "It's about honoring our ancestors and about celebrating our heritage," he said. "It's a historical thing to us."

He hopes people who are offended by the flag will drive to the memorial and view the plaques honoring Confederate soldiers. They plan to have one dedicated to black Confederate veterans, he said.

Mitch McDonald, the general manager of a nearby crane rental business, said he won't mind the flag. "The bigger, the better," he said.

But he's worried that it might offend a black employee of his, who was angered by the sighting of a Confederate flag on an earlier assignment.

Ted Meyer, who owns a nearby boat business, said he is concerned customers will think it's his flag because the properties are adjacent. His wife, Maxine Meyer, is upset by the plans. "I've got a lot of black customers," she said.

Dawson, the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Florida commander, said he knows a giant Confederate flag flying 24 hours a day over two of the Tampa area's busiest roads will cause controversy.

"We can't do anything but explain to people what the truth is," said Dawson, of Pensacola. "If they don't want to accept that, they're closed-minded, and Jesus Christ couldn't change it."

Times staff writers Andrew Meacham and Michael Van Sickler and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

As long as a semi

The Confederate flag would stretch the length of a semitrailer, planners say.

>>fast facts

Who is the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a national organization founded in 1896 that bills itself as a "historical, patriotic and nonpolitical organization dedicated to ensuring that a true history of the 1861 to 1865 period is preserved." It's open to male descendants of Confederate veterans.

The Florida division of the group has more than 1,500 members, according to its Web site. The group supported the proposed Confederate Heritage license plate, which did not pass this legislative session.

.fast facts

Who are the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a national organization founded in 1896 that bills itself as a "historical, patriotic and non-political organization dedicated to ensuring that a true history of the 1861 to 1865 period is preserved." It's open to male descendants of Confederate veterans.

The Florida division of the group has more than 1,500 members, according to its Web site. They supported the proposed Confederate Heritage license plate, which did not pass this legislative session.

Confederate group plans giant flag in Hillsborough County 05/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 8:07pm]
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