Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

In Hillsborough County, renewed debate over giant Confederate flag

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 [email protected], Jimmy Geurts at [email protected] and Shaker Samman at [email protected]

Comments
Evangelist Billy Graham, preacher to presidents, dies at age 99

Evangelist Billy Graham, preacher to presidents, dies at age 99

MONTREAT, N.C. — The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died Wednesday. He was 99. Graham, who l...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

TAMPA –– Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to ask embattled jobs center leader Ed Peachey to either resign or face termination over concerns the agency inflated job placement numbers with the state. Chairwoman Sandy Murman said commis...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Three-year-old found wandering in street leads to arrest of New Port Richey man

Three-year-old found wandering in street leads to arrest of New Port Richey man

PORT RICHEY — A 59-year-old man was arrested by Pasco County deputies Tuesday evening after a 3-year-old in his care was found wandering outside alone, the Sheriff’s Office said.Larry Dixon, of New Port Richey, was arrested at 8710 Bench Drive at abo...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Toga! Toga! 40th anniversary celebration of ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’ in Tampa this week

In the immortal words of Flounder at Faber College’s homecoming parade: Oh boy, this is gonna be great!A 40th anniversary celebration of National Lampoon’s Animal House featuring appearances by two stars of the quintessential campus comedy happens Th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
In theaters this week: ‘Annihilation’ based on Florida author Jeff VanderMeer’s book, ‘Game Night,’ ‘Every Day’

In theaters this week: ‘Annihilation’ based on Florida author Jeff VanderMeer’s book, ‘Game Night,’ ‘Every Day’

ANNIHILATIONAuthor Jeff VanderMeer told me at last year’s Times Festival of Reading that Annihilation (R) is going to blow everyone’s mind. The Tallahassee author is biased, of course, having written the novel it’s based on, but there’s some reason t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

LARGO — Police have identified the pedestrian in a fatal hit-and-run Wednesday morning.According to Largo police, 75-year-old John William English Jr. was struck and killed by a car about 6 a.m. at Wertz Drive. The crash shut down the eastbound lanes...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jam Packed with Excitement

Jam Packed with Excitement

 
Updated: 1 hour ago
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FESTOn Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’s Historic Deuc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

Clearwater Beach named No. 1 in U.S. by TripAdvisor

A reigning champion for sand and sunshine, Tampa Bay is once again home to one of the best beaches in the United States.Clearwater Beach was named the best beach in the U.S. for 2018 by the popular travel site TripAdvisor.This is the second time this...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Top 5 at noon: Florida’s third-biggest fire rescue department has a problem; evangelist Billy Graham dies at age 99; and more

Top 5 at noon: Florida’s third-biggest fire rescue department has a problem; evangelist Billy Graham dies at age 99; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.FLORIDA’S THIRD-BIGGEST FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT HAS A PROBLEMHillsborough County has a documented history of drug issues — and alcohol abuse — among first responders. A Tampa Bay Times investi...
Updated: 2 hours ago