Governor McCrory wants Confederate flag off license plates

| June 24, 2015

Confederate flag license plateby John Hinton, Winston-Salem Journal, June 23, 2015.

Gov. Pat McCrory plans to ask the N.C. General Assembly to pass a law that would end the use of the Confederate battle flag on specialty license plates issued by the state.

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis confirmed Tuesday the governor’s decision to ask legislators to make the change in light of the mass shootings in Charleston, S.C. and a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Texas to refuse to issue license plates that show the Confederate flag.

“The time is right,” Ellis said.

McCrory action comes a day after S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said that she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C.

Haley said she was moved to action because after the mass shooting last week at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

Dylann Roof, 21, a white man, is accused of killing nine black people last Wednesday in the historic church.

Roof is shown on the website, Lastrhodesian.com, posing for a photo holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.

North Carolina prints specialty plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with a logo featuring the Confederate flag. The commander of the group’s N.C. division couldn’t be reached for comment.

There are more than 2,000 active SCV plates in the state, Division of Motor Vehicles spokesman Steve Abbott said.

Shelly Carver, spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the issue raised by McCrory “is one that can be addressed by the executive branch” because DMV is responsible for approving plate designs. But Abbott said DMV usually is not involved in the plate design, leaving it to the organization.

There was no immediate response from the office of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

The Rev. Willard Bass, director of Dismantling Racism in Winston-Salem, said he agreed with McCrory.

“It’s an excellent idea,” Bass said.

The Confederate flag represents a history “that doesn’t serves our community going forward and being a more diverse community for all people,” Bass said.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty plate was first issued in North Carolina 1998, Abbott said. A state law authorized a specialty plate for “civic clubs” in part if DMV received at least 300 applications from a particular club. Unlike other specialty plate laws, the statute makes no specific reference to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

DMV initially didn’t approve the request by the group. The refusal ultimately went to court, where the Court of Appeals ruled the group met the law’s definitions of being “nationally recognized” and “civic” in nature, as well as performing historical and benevolent activities.

The Confederate flag is a divisive issue across the South. Many blacks consider it a symbol of slavery and racism, while some whites believe that it’s part of their Southern heritage and pays tribute to the Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.

Major retailers such as Walmart, Sears, and Ebay have said they would pull Confederate flags and merchandise bearing the flag from their store shelves and websites this week.

A spokeswoman for Mast General Store, based in Watauga County, said Tuesday that it also would stop selling Confederate military caps in its stores, including its recently opened store on Trade Street in Winston-Salem, by the end of the week.

In North Carolina, the Confederate national flag, not the battle flag, flies above old State Capitol in Raleigh twice a year, said Cary Cox, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

The flag with white stars in a blue field with red and white bars is displayed on Jan. 19, the birthday of Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during most of the Civil War.

The flag is also displayed at the State Capitol on May 10, which is Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina. State legislators passed resolution in 1961 that allowed organizations to fly the flag over the State Capitol on those two dates, Cox said.

The Confederate flag also is displayed in museums at four state historic sites in North Carolina — at Bennett Place in Durham, at Bentonville Battlefield at Four Oakes in Johnston County, at the CSS Neuse exhibit in Kinston and at Fort Fisher at Kure Beach in New Hanover County, said Cox and Dale Coats, the deputy director of the N.C. Historic Sites.

The flag is displayed at those sites “because that is part of our history,” Coats said. “We do it in context of each historic site. That’s part of our mission.”

His agency hasn’t received any public complaints about those Confederate flags, Coats said. No state-owned building outside of Raleigh displays the Confederate flag, Cox said.

In April 2013, a Confederate battle flag that hung inside the old State Capitol was removed after civil rights leaders complained about it. State officials had planned to hang the flag inside the capitol until April 2015 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of federal troops in Raleigh.

That flag was taken to the N.C. Museum of History, which is across Edenton Street from the capitol, and displayed in there with other Confederate flags flown in the state during the Civil War, said Susan Lamb, a museum spokeswoman.

In March 2006, a Confederate flag flying on a pole in a field just across the Forsyth-Davie county line on Interstate 40 was removed after flying for more than 10 years. The Community Foundation of Davie County persuaded Bert Bahnson, the landowner at the time, to allow the organization to bring down flag, saving it was a divisive symbol.

Bahnson, a former Davie County commissioner, said in 2006 that he raised the flag as a protest symbolizing “a Southerner doing battle with urban sprawl.”

The Rev. William Barber, the president of the N.C. chapter of the NAACP, said that the Confederate flag belongs in museums and not over the State Capitol or any public building.

“It is a symbol of terror, hate and treason to America’s ideal,” Barber said.

Category: NC Stateline, SPIN Blog

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