Confederate flag: License plates, statues and even a rock star ensnared in debate
Get ready for more Confederate flag debates across the country.
Calls for removing — or keeping — the Confederate battle flag are heating up across the South. The controversy has reached a university in Texas, the streets of Louisiana and a mountain in Georgia.
The debate intensified after South Carolina took down the Confederate battle flag from outside its state capitol, following the massacre of nine black church members in Charleston by a white man who reportedly said he was there to kill black people.
Here’s the latest in the battle over the Confederate battlefield flag:
Tom Petty: I was ‘downright stupid’
Singer Tom Petty told Rolling Stone he was ignorant and “dumb” to use the Confederate flag as a backdrop for his Southern Accents tour in 1985.
“I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant,” Petty told the magazine. “It was on a flagpole in front of the courthouse, and I often saw it in Western movies. I just honestly didn’t give it much thought, though I should have.”
Petty said he supported the removal of the flag from the statehouse grounds and said the symbol “shouldn’t represent us in any way.”
“People just need to think about how it looks to a black person,” he said. “It’s just awful. It’s like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn’t be on flagpoles.”
Mountain carving in Georgia
The Atlanta branch of the NAACP is calling for the removal of all Confederate symbols from the state-owned Stone Mountain Park, where a prominent carving on the side of the mountain shows three Confederate leaders on horseback.
Richard Rose, president of the local NAACP chapter, said the carving and surrounding depictions of the Civil War offer a false narrative and have no place on public property.
“That carving is a great piece of art, but it was commissioned out of hate and white supremacy,” Rose said. “The state should not be supporting or condoning white supremacy with my tax dollars.”
But John Bankhead, spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which maintains the park, said the property is self-sufficient. Park maintenance and operations are covered by revenues, not tax dollars, he said.
He also said changes to the park must be approved by the state government.
County building in Florida
Back-and-forth protests will continue Wednesday in Marion County, Florida, over the Confederate flag that came down — and then went back up.
Demonstrators will gather for a sit-in at the county’s McPherson Government Complex to call for the removal of the flag. The protest follows a weekend rally in support of the flag.
After the shootings in Charleston, county administrators took down the flag that had flown outside the administration building in Ocala for two decades, CNN affiliate WFTV said.
But residents complained, partly because the county commission didn’t make the decision. Last week, the commission voted to put the flag back up.
Statues at the University of Texas
What should the University of Texas at Austin do about three statues of Confederate leaders on campus?
A public forum will take place Wednesday to tackle that question.
UT president Gregory L. Fenves has asked a 12-member task force to look into the historical, artistic and political intent of the statues and make a recommendation about their placement by August 1, the university said.
Pro-flag rally in Louisiana
A sea of motorcycles and trucks roared into West Monroe, Louisiana, on Tuesday night decked with the Confederate battle flag.
“We won’t stand down and let our heritage be stomped on,” Cole Watson told CNN affiliate KNOE.
He and Brandon Bell were among the hundreds of revelers at the pro-flag rally.
“To us, it’s a symbol of something we believe in,” Bell told KNOE. But he added that the protest isn’t just about the flag itself.
“It’s about taking our liberties away from us, and we don’t like it.”
License tags in Virginia and North Carolina
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has called for the state to stop issuing specialty plates with Confederate battle flags. He based his decision on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling denying the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty tags with their logo.
But the Virginia chapter of the SCV says it will fight McAuliffe’s plan.
In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also is calling for an end to SCV tags. “That’s clearly the flag that has been hijacked by people that are misusing that symbolism to set the wrong tone for our nation and for North Carolina,” he told CNN affiliate WRAL.
But there’s a difference of opinion about how to make that happen, reported WRAL. The governor says the legislature would have to rewrite state law, but the state Senate leader says the governor could simply order it to happen.
State flag in Mississippi
The MIssissippi state flag has the Confederate battle flag in the left corner. It needs to go, says state House Speaker Philip Gunn. Miss Mississippi agrees. So do the state’s U.S. senators, both Republicans.
But some state legislators are saying not so fast. In a 2001 referendum, Mississippi voted to keep the Confederate symbol on the flag — a fact several legislators cited when contacted by the state’s leading newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.
“At the end of the day, it’s an issue voters have decided,” state Rep. John Moore told the newspaper. “If it was a close vote, it might be worth looking at. But it was a substantial vote, better than 2-to-1.”
A fight over the Confederate flag even popped up in Congress when Republicans proposed a spending bill that had language allowing the flag in federally run cemeteries.
The Republicans ended up yanking the bill after emotional debate, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia denouncing the GOP while standing next to a picture of the policeman who beat him at the 1965 Selma march. The officer wears a helmet with the Confederate flag emblem on it.
House Speaker John Boehner quickly called for a bipartisan group of members to work on a plan to address the issue, but Democrats ignored him. Given the partisan friction in Congress, this fight could break out again.
School mascot in Alabama
At Vestavia Hills High School, outside of Birmingham, Alabama, parents and students complained that the Colonel Reb mascot has a racist connotation, according to CNN affiliate WHNT.
But the mascot has supporters, including the first black student to wear the rebel costume at football games. Calvin Wright wrote a column for the website Al.com, saying he was proud to be a Vestavia grad and that “Taking away the mascot isn’t going to solve the sole issue that is at hand with the world — racism!”
But another former mascot, who is white, told Al.com that Rebel Man should be dropped because it’s “a symbol that stands for racism and oppression for so many people.”
So far, local officials haven’t made a decision.
One of the most famous Confederate-themed mascots was Colonel Reb, who represented University of Mississippi athletic teams. He was replaced in 2010 with the Rebel Black Bear.
By Ralph Ellis and Holly Yan
CNN’s John Murgatroyd, Dave Alsup, Deirdre Walsh, Athena Jones and Lauriel Cleveland contributed to this report.