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Friday, Aug 17, 2018
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Giant Confederate battle flag visible from I-75 in spotlight again

Tampa’s mayor says it’s time for the huge Confederate battle flag flying near a heavily traveled Hillsborough intersection to go.

But the only way the flag will come down is in a hurricane, says the leader of a local Confederate history group that maintains the flag and flagpole.

Even then, the world’s largest battle flag would rise again, said David McAllister, commander of the Judah P. Benjamin Camp, the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“We all sympathize with the poor victims of Charleston, but the flag did not cause that to happen,” McAllister said Monday. “That was a horrible crime done by a mentally ill criminal responsible for his own actions, and people calling for gun and flag limitations in response are standing against the American Constitution. The flag shouldn’t remind people of a bad thing, but remind them that bad times were overcome.”

The flag near the interchange of Interstate 75 and Interstate 4 has been a controversial and high-profile public spectacle since it was erected in 2008. The Confederate history groups display the 30-by-60 foot flag on a 139-foot tall flagpole that was built on private property.

Group members made sure they received the required county permits, and though the appearance of the huge flag was controversial, county officials said they were powerless to stop it because the flag and flagpole did not violate any zoning laws.

The flag is again drawing attention in the wake of the massacre of nine black church members who were gunned down in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night. Police say by a 21-year-old man with a white supremacist background has confessed to the killings.

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Among those who say the huge battle flag flying only a few miles from downtown Tampa needs to go is Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“The time has long since come and gone to retire the flag of the Confederacy to a museum,” Buckhorn said in an email to the Tribune. “The fact that it is still flying over I-4 is not a celebration of the history of the South but a painful reminder of man’s inhumanity to fellow man. It does not reflect the amazing diversity of Tampa or the emergence of this state as a beacon of tolerance. It needs to come down.”

Natasha Goodley, vice president of the Hillsborough County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is from Sumter, South Carolina, and has participated in marches there to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

“Moving to Tampa and seeing such a huge Confederate flag flying is truly disheartening,” Goodley said. “It stands for treason. It stands for hatred. There’s nothing else you can attribute to that flag but hate.”

The Confederate battle flag was never adopted by any formal government, she said, and states like Texas have rejected a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that included the battle flag in its design.

In 1994, the battle flag was removed from the Hillsborough County seal, and in 2007, county commissioners refused to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.

McAllister, though, says attempts to remove the flag are “very disingenuous.’’ He said the flag has never been a symbol of racism or oppression, just “honorable men loyal to their states defending their homes against an illegal invasion.”

“We pledged to remember and honor our ancestors, and we see the Confederate flag as a rallying point, a symbol of comfort and common identity for those that survived the horrors of war,” McAllister said. “It should be a symbol of solace, not separation, and when we respect that history it will cease to be a boogeyman used by extremists.”

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At the flag’s base are plaques honoring black, white, Hispanic, Jewish and Native American Confederate soldiers, and the group, which has black and white members, participates in the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council’s multicultural fairs every year representing “southern Americans,” he said.

The Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans are also invited each year to march in Fourth of July parades in Temple Terrace and Brandon, he said. They pass out mini Confederate flags as they march along their route to children and onlookers of all races, and they are always “well-received,” McAllister said.

Goodley said such arguments ring hollow.

“If I decided to erect a huge billboard in my front lawn that said hateful things about other racial groups, it would not be tolerated,” Goodley said. “If we truly want to move forward, we have to move forward and get rid of this symbol of hatred and division.”

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