Giant Confederate flag on I-95 here to stay, group says

By Michael Buettner

The group that recently raised a Confederate battle flag on a 50-foot pole next to Interstate 95 south of Chester is feeling a little dazed by the experience but is happy with the result and still plans to keep the banner waving for a long time.

Barry Isenhour, a member of the Virginia Flaggers – the Sandston-based Confederate heritage group that raised the 15-by-15-foot flag at 2501 Old Bermuda Hundred Road – said the group was surprised by the global uproar that erupted over what started out as a modest plan for a local memorial.

“The original goal, which is still the main goal, is to honor our Confederate soldiers, the men who fought and bled on this land,” Isenhour said during a visit to the flag site last week. “This is their flag.”

“They promptly put out an article, and then we had to say, ‘Yes, we’re doing it,’ Isenhour explained. “It wasn’t so much us putting it out.”

Once the news did get out, however, it spread fast – and far. “We’ve gotten tremendous press coverage all over the world,” Isenhour said. “The BBC interviewed me. The Wall Street Journal did a story, the New York Daily News. That was something we didn’t expect.”

The original announcement included an invitation to attend the flag-raising ceremony on Sept. 28, which “put a time limit” on the task of getting the pole up, Isenhour said.

As a result, the flaggers had to hurry to get the pole installed, which meant going ahead without the spotlights and security cameras that were part of the plan. The haste also may have contributed to some miscommunication with the county.

Don Kappel, director of the county’s Department of Public Affairs, said county officials tried to contact the flaggers after news of the project broke, but a letter they sent to one address they found for the group came back as undeliverable.

“We then sent it to a second address we found, but by that time they had already erected [the pole] without a permit,” Kappel explained. “The folks who erected the flagpole did some research, they looked online, and they didn’t think they needed a permit. The language, to a layman, may be somewhat misleading.”

Kappel said the county has “determined that they made an honest effort” to meet county requirements. “We are working with the group to have them obtain the necessary permits and to determine that the pole meets the requirements for safety and so on.”

Plans still include adding the spotlights and security cameras, and the group also plans to clear more trees to help make the flag more visible to passing motorists, both on I-95 and Old Bermuda Hundred Road, Isenhour said. An earth-moving machine known as a track hoe that was used to clear the site for the flag-raising is still sitting on the property.

Isenhour said the security cameras are needed because there has already been some minor vandalism, involving spray-painting of the track hoe and the pole itself, before it was raised. “We’ve had threats, people saying, ‘We’re going to come in and take it down,’” he said. “Our plans are to keep this here for quite a long time.”

Some of the publicity the group has received “has been quite negative, but that’s OK,” Isenhour said.

Criticism of the flaggers’ plan was widespread and mainly focused on the fact that many people today associate the battle flag with white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Isenhour acknowledged that some people see the battle flag that way, but he insists that racists’ adoption of the battle flag was a misuse of it. “We in no way support that,” he said. “The KKK has been dishonoring [Confederate soldiers] for years because they used the flag wrong.”

No matter how anyone else perceives the battle flag, Isenhour said, the Virginia Flaggers truly want only to memorialize the soldiers who carried it in battle.

“We have felt for a long time that our Confederate ancestors were not being honored,” said Isenhour, who is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “I have pride in who my ancestors were, and I believe in that for everybody.”

On The Web: