Plan For Huge Confederate Symbol Raises Red Flags

The Tampa Tribune
Published: June 3, 2008

TAMPA – Heritage for some, hate to others, the battle flag of the Southern rebellion causes a stir wherever it flies.

Soon, it will fly within view of some 200,000 vehicles a day at one of Tampa’s major crossroads – Interstates 4 and 75.

Volunteers on Monday prepared a site for a Confederate memorial: a lighted park, a granite marker, and rising above it all on a pole half as tall as a football field is long, the 50-foot-by-30-foot red flag that inspired rebel soldiers.

The banner is one of five being erected as part of a project called Flags Across Florida by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The organization, formed more than 100 years ago to memorialize the war lost by the South in 1865, owns the Tampa property.

"We have a couple of American flags in this country. This is one of them," said Marion Lambert, a welder from Brandon and member of the group, as he watched the site preparation work Monday.

When he sees the flag, Lambert thinks of the courage of soldiers who fought under it. They included three of his ancestors.

"This flag was a soldier’s flag," he said. "It stands for American liberty."

Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sees something else.

"It is always a symbol of hate, wherever it is flown," Nweze said. "It is a symbol of racial hatred against those of us who are black in this country and in this state."

From her home in Miami, Nweze rejected the argument that the flag is a source of pride for descendants of Civil War soldiers.

"It’s not a symbol of hate or race to them," she said. "It is for us, those of us impacted by it. It is offensive to us. They know what it means to us. They are part of the same story."

The Tampa memorial is scheduled to be dedicated April 26, the date recognized by many in Florida as Confederate Memorial Day. The flag might be flying before that, Lambert said.

Under a sweltering sun Monday, a half-dozen workers got the site ready for 16 tons of granite set in concrete.

"All the labor here is donated," Lambert said. "That portable toilet: We are getting that for $5 for the duration."

He hedged when asked how much the Confederate war memorial will cost but did say the flagpole alone, all 139 feet of it, not including the 14 feet piercing the sandy soil, cost about $18,000.

The Confederate battle flag is the best known of three flags that have come to symbolize the Confederacy; the one with the blue St. Andrew’s cross containing 13 white stars on a field of red.

Lambert said the park will include 30 bronze plaques set in granite telling Civil War stories. The flag, he said, "is the eye-catcher," with the ultimate goal of drawing people to the memorial for a history lesson with a Southern slant.

A fundraising effort for the Hillsborough County site began two years ago.

The Confederate flag was removed from the official flag of Hillsborough County almost three decades ago.

One of the flag’s neighbors, Randy Holman of Accent Marine, said he’s of two minds about the memorial.

"To me, it’s just a big piece of cloth flying in the air," Holman said. "I know that to some people, it means more than that. I worry about my customers and if they object to it and if they will they think it’s my flag."

He also worries about protests and vandalism. "I hope they just leave my business alone."

The property was turned over to the group four years ago by a sympathetic landowner, according to a letter written in 2006 and posted on the Web site of Florida’s Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The campaign was fueled by the Hillsborough County Commission’s refusal to recognize Confederate Memorial Day last year, said Wesley Chapel lawyer David McCallister, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

McCallister said all the proper approvals have been obtained.

"It’s not like we’re trying to secede or anything," McCallister said.

Even the Federal Aviation Administration has given its approval for the towering flagpole, according to Florida’s Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit corporation made up of 53 chapters with more than 1,500 members.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White first heard about the Confederate flag Monday.

"I realize that everybody’s heritage needs to be respected and displayed in their own way," White said, "but this is not the way to bring the community together in a healing process. It’s still an open wound.

"Here we are," White said, "still fighting this 28 or 30 years later."

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