By Zack Smith
March 2, 2006

AMHERST – The Confederate battle flag always has been one of the most controversial symbols of the Civil War – and its elimination from Amherst County’s official seal has some residents fighting mad.

Organizers, including several members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, have gathered hundreds of signatures protesting the flag’s removal, which they say was done without informing the public.

Meanwhile, Leon Parrish of the Board of Supervisors said that the image of the flag was erased without citizen input to avoid controversy.

“Any time you get a subject that broad, you can interrupt the entire county,” Parrish said.The flag’s removal came in August 2004 as the result of a resolution from the Board of Supervisors, according to Interim County Administrator David Proffitt.

The resolution eliminated the flag from newer items featuring the county seal, such as county decals, but did not eliminate it from older items such as the “Welcome to Amherst County” sign, Proffitt said.

A small image of the battle flag was in the center of the seal, which was created in 1961 by architect Charles L. Vail Jr. as part of the county’s 200th anniversary.

While some consider the flag a symbol of southern history, others consider it a symbol of slavery and racism.

“I don’t think that the county should be promoting anything that’s offensive to anyone,” said Parrish. He said he proposed the resolution after receiving requests to do so from residents of District 5, which he represents.

Leah Lovell of Naola said that she first discovered the flag was missing in April when she got her new county decal.

“That’s the first thing I noticed,” Lovell said.

“It’s part of our history. It affects thousands of people in the county.”

Unlike an ordinance, a resolution does not require an advertised public hearing, meaning that most county residents did not know about plans to remove the seal.

Now, some of those residents are trying to get it back.

At Dixie Outfitters, a southern heritage memorabilia store in Madison Heights that prominently displays the flag on its storefront, county residents can sign petitions to Sen. Steve Newman (R-Forest) asking for his help in reinstating the flag on the seal.

Lovell said that about 1,000 residents had signed the petition at locations throughout Amherst County, but that Newman’s office had sent back letters saying it was a county issue.

Brenda Beeton, who runs the shop with her husband, Dennis, said that she felt eliminating the flag from the seal took away a piece of Amherst County’s history.

“When you change history, you burn aa book, just like they did in Nazi Germany,” Beeton said.

“You might as well live in Russia during the Communist regime.”

Brian Giles of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said that it was unfair to view the flag as a symbol of hate because some racist organizations used it.

“You’re taking the old quote, ‘it takes one bad apple to ruin the barrel,’ and applied that to the flag,” said Giles, who works to discover and restore the graves of county Civil War veterans.

Giles also said that some of the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy were black, Jewish and even Indian.

Parrish said that he and the board stood by their decision.“People use the excuse that it’s history, but if I want to know history, I go to the history books, not a symbol or a picture.

“This was not done to hurt anybody, it was done so that peace and harmony may prevail in Amherst County.”

© 2006 Media General Inc.

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