Confederate flag controversy in Princeton pits council against Copperheads

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Princeton City Council members apparently decided a few weeks ago that rather than face the anticipated repercussions of allowing a Confederate flag to be attached to the welcoming sign displaying other organizational insignias, they would remove all.

A request by the Flat Top Copperheads on March 10 of this year to post the organization’s signs on the sign trees located at main entranceways into Princeton is the reason for the council’s action, the Copperheads say.

The Copperheads, who emphatically report most of their members are veterans of recent wars, say they are not racists and do not condone any form of hate against anyone.

A statement released to the media calling for “Fairness to All from Princeton City Officials” by members Kenneth Hylton, Richard D. Lockhart and John William Fleming, says city officials “very cleverly denied us the right to put our signs up under the guise of their so-called 20-year comprehensive plan which cost the taxpayers over $70,000 several years ago and has been buried in a pile of papers in city hall for many years and opted to take all other organizational signs down such as Elks, Moose, Masonic, Civitan, Kiwanis, Quota, various churches, etc.”

They pointed out that also removed was a “City of Princeton-West Virginia’s First WWII Commemorative Community” sign and another designating the city as the home of the Devil Rays professional baseball club.

Being one of the news media representatives at the council meeting when the sign decision occurred, I remember the action happened quickly, was unanimous and seemed innocent. Most reporters took it as a routine business item.

Councilman Chad Caldwell, chair of the finance and administration committee, made the motion when giving his report and it quickly passed. I had the impression the sign trees would be removed for clean up and returned to the city entrances. I got no vibes of controversy or that the signs were being removed permanently.

I do remember City Manager Wayne Shumate and some of the council members glancing toward the press table about time the vote was taken. But that’s not unusual. Some members tend to watch the press as much as we watch them.

When later questioned about the removed signs, Shumate said they are at the city’s public works department and clubs that want them can get them.

During a brief conversation with Shumate and Councilman Marshall Lytton during Celebrate Princeton, they had little to say — but Shumate indicated the action was exactly what was said in the council meeting — one of the recommendations of the comprehensive plan.

The statement issued by the three Copperheads says, “The city of Princeton could have put our logo signs up — but opted to remove all other organizations’ signs which assist with donations, monies, etc., to thousands of residents annually. Their conclusion, we feel sure, was based on the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit of which … determined logo restriction is an instance of viewpoint discrimination … and a violation of the First Amendment structures’ …”

The men said their comments aren’t an apology to the other organizations whose signs have been removed but instead is an effort to inform the citizens of the “shameful city government’s condemnation of our (your) ancestors.”

They said there was a time when Confederate veterans met at Princeton Hall, etc., and were honored as “true heroes” by the citizens. “People took pride in their ancestors then, but today, since that great Battle Flag they fought under has been condemned by those ignorant of the true history, those veterans are now looked upon as something evil,” they said.

Looking at both sides, city officials would want to avoid disruption and problems the showing of the Confederate flag could cause locally. Problems are most likely to come from outside Princeton.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard lots of opinions about the controversy. It appears many Princeton area folks are proud of their southern heritage. There is also a little concern about conflict.

The Copperheads say they will not let the matter “fade away” as they believe the city officials hope” … so it will probably be a controversial topic for some time.

© 2006, The Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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