Park owner ends protest, hoists Rebel flags again

Staff Writer

New leadership of local SCV chapter ends six-month hiatus

The lights are back on and the Confederate flags are flying again at the private park adjacent to Interstate 65.

The strip of land beside the highway in southern Davidson County again has its 13 copies of the Confederate battle flag flying around a 25-foot-tall statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Owner Charles William ”Bill” Dorris said it’s all thanks to new leadership in the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

”There were certain elements within the SCV that were associated with the white supremacist groups,” Dorris said. ”There’s been a fight for control of the SCV for some time, and they wanted to take it toward the white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan and they wanted to appoint themselves to offices for life.”

Dorris said the flags were not on display between the end of October and April 24 of this year because of a disagreement he had with the commander of the state chapter of the SCV, Skip Earle. He said he returned the flags when Earle left the commander’s post.

Efforts to reach Earle yesterday at his Franklin home telephone listing were not successful.

Since 1997, 13 Southern states’ flags, each above a Confederate battle flag, have been on display around the Forrest statue at the private park, roughly halfway between the Old Hickory Boulevard and Harding Place exits on I-65. The park is generally not open to the public. A large padlocked gate limits access to it.

Jack Kershaw, the nonagenarian lawyer, ex-Vanderbilt football star and artist who created the statue of Forrest, said he is pleased the park is illuminated again. Without the lights, his work could only be seen in the daytime.

”I am delighted,” Kershaw said. ”They’ve been off for a good while, and I’m glad they are back on.”

Dorris said it was in the spirit of protecting of the South that the flags came down last October. He said he disagreed with the new direction of the organization, and what leaders were trying to do was not in the original character of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He said the group was originally formed to preserve the memory of the Confederacy, not to terrorize others.

”I told (Earle) that I would take my flags down as long as he was in office,” he said. ”A lot of people didn’t believe that I’d do it, but I did.”

The Web site of the Tennessee SCV lists as its commander Edward M. Butler. Earle is listed as head of Ways and Means.

Dorris said the moment Earle left office as head of the group, the park’s flags went back up.

”I was standing at the site with my cell phone and a crew,” he said. ”As soon as I got the call, I had no problem putting them back up, but I wouldn’t put them back up while (Earle) was in office.”

And the flags have been up ever since, though they are at half-staff until tomorrow morning, marking the death of Army Staff Sgt. Todd E. Nunes of Marshall County, the latest Tennessean to be killed in the war in Iraq.

Once he put the flags back up last month, Dorris said, he got the idea to lower them to half-staff for five days every time a soldier from the South was killed in a war or conflict.

”My flags are at half-staff every time a Southern boy— black, white or polka-dot — is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. ”Our Yankee-born, occupation-forces governor, who is really from Connecticut, won’t do that for the boys from Tennessee, but what could I expect?”

Gov. Phil Bredesen grew up in Shortsville, N.Y., a town about 30 miles southeast of Rochester.

Rachel Lassiter, spokeswoman for Bredesen’s office, said the state flag is not lowered to half-staff every time a soldier from Tennessee is killed in battle ”as a matter of procedure.” But, she added, it is at the discretion of the governor to have the state flag lowered on such occasions.

”While it is not lowered for the deaths of individual soldiers, it is lowered on Memorial Day to half-staff until noon,” she said.

Dorris said Tennessee is not alone in that practice. ”There is no state in the South that lowers their flag every time a soldier is killed,” he said. ”But it is what I decided to do — besides, us Southern boys take care of us Southern boys.”