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Confederate flag in Stafford stays above the national fray

© Leesburg Today - 06/26/2015

A Confederate battle flag still hangs alongside Interstate 95 in Stafford County, dozens of feet above the roadway and, seemingly, above all the criticism levied against similar banners.

Confederate flags of all shapes and sizes have come under scrutiny in the aftermath of the June 17 massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., that is believed to have been racially motivated. Government leaders in Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama have removed, or urged the removal of, the symbol from state property and state-issued license plates. And large online and brick-and-mortar businesses have pledged to stop selling anything that bears an image of the flag.

But the version adjacent to I-95 in Stafford, on a 90-foot pole, is on private property. So it exists in a realm away from those flags being removed from official government placements.

Hubert and Debbie Cash own the land where that flag is displayed.

Despite repeated attempts, they couldn't be reached for comment. But the couple told WJLA they will continue flying it.

""The flag didn't do anything,"" Debbie Cash told the television station. ""The flag is not to blame for this hatred.""

The banner went up last year, part of the Virginia Flaggers project to hoist Confederate flags on private property around the state. On its Facebook page, which has more than 8,500 followers, the group says it stands ""against those who would desecrate our Confederate monuments and memorials, and for our Confederate veterans.""

There was a backlash over the Stafford flag last summer, with more than 23,000 people signing a ""Say NO to the I-95 Confederate flag"" petition.

And now there's renewed interest in eliminating the Confederate flag everywhere.

For example, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday ordered the image of the flag removed from specialty license plates issued for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their supporters, after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Texas license plates with Confederate emblems that said that the tags aren't covered by First Amendment protections.

Virginia approved the plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1999, but the law banned the Stars and Bars emblem.

The group, however, sued the state in 2002 and won the right to have the flag displayed. Now nearly 1,600 license plates in Virginia show the emblem, according to The Associated Press.

In having state license tags changed, McAuliffe said that he is sending the message that the Old Dominion does not support official displays of the Confederate battle flag, but that he is not ""going after landowners and private businesses.""

The Stafford County Branch of the NAACP, however, believes that the time is past due for all communities to come together for serious dialogue on race relations.

Branch President Aston Haughton said elected officials should formulate legislation that will remove images of racism.

""The displaying of the Confederate flag, which continues to perpetuate hatred and disharmony in our communities, can no longer be ignored,"" Haughton said. ""We can no longer allow racial hatred and oppression to continue unabated in society.""

Haughton continued: ""Specifically in Stafford County, we will continue to foster alliances and engage in dialogue with county officials as it relates to the Confederate flag flying on I-95.""

Stafford County supervisors did not return requests for comment about the issue.

House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell, a Stafford Republican, said he thinks McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are taking appropriate steps.

The tide is turning against displaying the flag in retail settings, as well. Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Sears all have decided to remove from sale items displaying the Confederate flag.

But while some claim the Confederate flag connotes hate, others continue to regard it as part of their Southern heritage.

That includes Ben Jones, who lives in Rappahannock County.

Jones is best known for his portrayal of the mechanic ""Cooter"" in the ""Dukes of Hazzard"" television series. He's a life member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he's spent the last few days as the group's spokesman on the flag issue, appearing on cable TV talk shows and responding to inquiries from various print and online media outlets.

He noted that the backlash against the flag is an emotional response to the Charleston incident in which nine black church members were fatally shot.

But Jones said that response has gotten out of hand to the point where some people want every vestige of the Confederacy destroyed, including statues of historical figures such as Robert E. Lee and ""Stonewall"" Jackson.

He likened that kind of assault to Nazis taking over and said the scenario is creating a sort of ""second Reconstruction"" of the American South.

""I call it a frenzy of cultural cleansing,"" Jones said.

He also pointed out that entertainment giant Warner Bros. has decided to stop making replicas of the famous General Lee car from the ""Dukes"" show because it bears an image of the Confederate flag.

""Warner Bros. Consumer Products has one licensee producing die-cast replicas and vehicle model kits featuring the General Lee with the Confederate flag on its roof-as it was seen in the TV series,"" Warner Bros. said in a statement issued Wednesday. ""We have elected to cease the licensing of these product categories.""

That move, along with those of other retailers, has meant a deluge of consumers snapping up any Confederate items they can find. For example, Jones, who operates three ""Cooter""-branded stores in Virginia and Tennessee, said customers have been flocking to his ""Dukes""-themed website to buy merchandise. At least, he said, they did until his website was hacked Wednesday afternoon.

Jones said countless critics have called him a racist recently, as well, despite his former service as a progressive Democratic congressman from Georgia and work for civil rights.

He said that those who use the Confederate flag for hate desecrate it, and that's not something the Sons of Confederate Veterans wants.

And he said people employing the symbol for evil are far outnumbered by those who aren't, especially when one considers that some 70 million have descended from the Confederacy.

However, the trend lately is to be closed-minded about the Confederate flag, Jones said, so it's hard for anyone with a tangible connection to the Confederacy or Southern history to make an impact on the national conversation.

""It doesn't matter what we say,"" he said.

The latest outcry is especially disheartening, Jones said, because the South has moved past segregation and Jim Crow to be a place where Americans, black and white, are working together to create a better future.

""The South has come so far,"" he said.

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