Article published Apr 1, 2006
By Bill Cotterell
DEMOCRAT POLITICAL EDITOR
Capitol news conferences don’t usually start with a former NAACP president leading a blue-and-gray squad of Civil War re-enactors in a chorus of "Dixie," followed by a Rebel yell.
But the idea of putting the Confederate battle emblem on thousands of Florida license tags is something Southern partisans can get fired up about – even if it’s a lost cause. So the members of the state chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans were in high spirits Friday as they began a campaign to persuade legislators that Florida should join nine of its neighbors in commemorating its Civil War history.
H.K. Edgerton, a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from Asheville, N.C., and Nelson Winbush of Kissimmee, a retired educator who traces his Southern lineage to a black soldier in Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command, joined the SCV call for a commemorative tag. The conference opened with "Dixie," with young men wearing Yankee and Confederate uniforms smiling and singing behind Edgerton.
"It is not racist to promote a common heritage," he said. "There will be those uninformed individuals who will attempt to categorize this plate in unflattering terms."
Winbush said "some young whites have the same problem about declaring their heritage" in the South.
Edgerton said many black people have been wrongly taught that the Confederacy stood only for slavery and oppression. But he said there were blacks fighting on both sides of the Civil War and that blacks should take pride in contributions to the region’s culture.
Gov. Jeb Bush had Florida’s 1861-65 state flag removed from the west steps of the Capitol, along with four other flags that flew over the state at various times. It’s almost impossible that a tag bill could be introduced and reach his desk during the second half of the 2006 session, since the process requires sponsors to conduct a survey of 30,000 automobile owners and show a likelihood that sales would be worth the state’s time and expense in issuing a tag.
Rep. Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle, said the SCV asked him to introduce the bill last month but the filing deadline had already passed. He said he would "consider sponsoring it, depending on where the money goes" in the 2007 legislative session.
"As much as I support Southern heritage, that’s one you have to be careful with," said Kendrick, whose district sprawls across the Big Bend from Alachua County to Apalachicola. "We’ve already got too many specialty tags. I’m not going to be opposed but it’s a sensitive subject."
Bob Hurst of Tallahassee, wearing a gray uniform with ornate gold trim, said the SCV would find legislative sponsors once they muster public support for the tag.
"There are tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people who would be proud to have this license plate on their vehicles," he said. "We feel that those people deserve the opportunity to buy that flag, to buy that tag and have it on their vehicles."
John Adams of Deltona, chairman of the license-tag drive, said proceeds from plate sales help with restoration of the original Confederate flags in the Museum of Florida History. He said maintaining cemeteries and erecting and repairing markers of soldiers – on both sides – would also be a priority.