Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In Hillsborough County, renewed debate over giant Confederate flag

An honor guard fires a volley as re-enactors lift a giant Confederate battle flag during the dedication of Confederate Memorial Park at 10418 U.S. 92 in Tampa in April 2009. 

Times (2009)

An honor guard fires a volley as re-enactors lift a giant Confederate battle flag during the dedication of Confederate Memorial Park at 10418 U.S. 92 in Tampa in April 2009. 

TAMPA — Seven years after it was first raised, the Confederate battle flag still dominates the highway skyline, an enormous streak of red towering over the palms along Interstate 75.

As hundreds of protesters in South Carolina call to remove the Confederate flag flown at the state's Capitol after nine black church members were slain last week in what authorities are calling a hate crime, local leaders are reflecting on one of Florida's own monuments to Dixie.

"Given what happened in South Carolina, it opens old wounds about the flag flying in Tampa," said Curtis Stokes, who was president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP when the flag was dedicated in 2009. "It's a symbol of oppression, it's a symbol of a divide in American history, and I still think it's wrong."

But others are saying it represents their heritage.

"It's a historical marker. It's a reminder to all of us who had ancestors in the war," said Bob Hatfield of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which oversees the flag site. He said he is upset that the flag has been "hijacked" as a symbol by racist groups.

Marion Lambert, another member of the group who helped lead the effort to put the flag near the I-75 and Interstate 4 junction, said it doesn't play a role in tragedies like the attack in Charleston.

"No more than drinking coffee in the morning, or eating bananas in the afternoon, or waking up has anything to do with it," Lambert said. "The Confederate flag is historic."

He used to own the land where the flag rests and has since donated it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He called the flag "a catalyst for a mental movement."

"The reason we put that flag up is to start people thinking," Lambert said. "If people look at it as a divisive issue, then that's their own portrayal."

In the days since last week's shooting in a venerable Charleston, S.C., church, a white supremacist manifesto tied to murder suspect Dylann Roof has emerged, as has a picture of Roof holding a Confederate battle flag. Authorities say Roof, 21, sat in on a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, then shot and killed nine African-Americans.

Worshipers at the 34th Street Church of God in Tampa honored the victims on Sunday, reading their names and taking up a collection. Just a day earlier, the Rev. Thomas Scott had driven past the gigantic flag and was struck by its enormity.

"Given the history of it, I don't know why anybody would want to fly that flag," he said. "I think it sends a negative message about the citizens of Hillsborough County. It is very disgusting and very distasteful to see it flying."

Scott, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner and Tampa City Council member, said he recognizes that some honor the flag for its history, but said that its legacy is tied to hate and segregation.

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner said the flag is "abhorrent" and "a jumble of slavery, segregation and oppression."

"It's a relic of the past, and it belongs where people put relics," she said. "If you went to Germany and saw a swastika on a flag, how would people react to that? It's the same reaction."

The flag remains a divisive reminder of exclusion and violence, said Jennifer Russell, executive director of nonprofit Community Tampa Bay, a group that seeks to end discrimination.

"I would really challenge the notion that we don't have other symbols of heritage that we could come up with," she said. "We can do better than that."

The flag's display, though legal, has long been contentious. Flown from a 139-foot pole, the battle flag measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long.

At its base is a small memorial park, "a tribute to the men who answered the call of duty in defense of our Southland," according to a marker.

Plans to erect the flag were met with worries from county commissioners, but the park is private property, and the flag is considered free speech. In the end, more than 1,000 supporters flocked to its dedication in 2009.

The flag was raised first in 2008 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America. Since its dedication, it has flown almost full time.

About 30 percent of Americans have a negative reaction to the Confederate flag, versus 9 percent who view it positively, a 2011 Pew Research study found.

Among those opposed is County Commissioner Les Miller. When he thinks of the flag, he said, he remembers seeing it on cars in segregated 1950s Hillsborough County and in the hands of Ku Klux Klan members.

"I thought we had moved beyond that," he said. "I know what it meant then, and I know what it means now."

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com, Jimmy Geurts at jgeurts@tampabay.com and Shaker Samman at ssamman@tampabay.com.

In Hillsborough County, renewed debate over giant Confederate flag 06/21/15 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2015 11:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii

    Military

    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan

    Blogs

    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.