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Confederate Controversy: Conflict surrounds battle flag removed

Gov. Robert Bentley made the decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from Capitol grounds Wednesday, June 24. The battle flag was flying on the Confederate Memorial, along with three other Civil War-era flags including the "Stars and Bars" flag and the Second and Third National Confederate flag. Those flags were also removed. 

Kenneth Noe, alumni draughon professor of southern history, said he thought for 20 years the confederate flag should be removed. 

"State symbols are supposed to be unifying and that one's divisive," Noe said. "I think individuals have a right to fly it. I think it's appropriate at places like battlefields or cemeteries, but I just don't think the state should be in the business of flying it." 

Noe said he was surprised at how quickly people reacted last week. 

"I think there must've been a lot of sentiment out there I didn't know about to bring it down," Noe said. 

According to Noe, versions of the confederate flag were used in the Civil War by Confederate troops and the flag wasn't commonly seen in the South again until the late 1940s when Strom Thurmond and segregationists broke away from the Democratic party ran against Harry Truman. 

Noe said they made the flag a symbol of segregation and opposition to federal government. He said at this time Ole Miss started flying the flag. 

When George Wallace became governor in 1963 one of the first things he did was put the confederate flag on the capitol building. The flag was removed from the Capitol and moved to the Confederate Memorial in 1993 by Jim Folsom. 

"We've forgotten that I think in 2015, but in 1950s and 60s people knew exactly why the flag was appearing again," Noe said. 

Coach Bruce Pearl was asked about his views on the Confederate flag at the SEC Men's Basketball Sumer Teleconference on Monday, June 29.

“The Confederate flag means a lot in a very positive way to a lot of folks in the South,” Pearl said. “It identifies the South in many, many ways that are historical, and in some circles very positive. But in other circles, it is not a positive symbol in our country. As a result, it flying in public areas that represent all the people, not just a certain element, can be a real challenge.”

Pearl said society should take the feelings of all groups into account.

“When something is offensive to somebody, I think it’s important that we recognize that, and in public places, be sensitive to that and take the flag down,” Pearl said. “I think it’s good that in this country we have this debate and discuss it.”

Pearl added that the focus should be on our national flag.

“So much is being made of the Confederate flag right now, and I get that,” Pearl said, “but with July 4 coming up, let’s raise our flag. Let’s honor our flag and what it stands for, the freedoms that our country enjoys. It bothers me when people desecrate our flag and don’t honor it. It bothers me tremendously.”

Some people argue the flag has always been tainted because it's associated with slavery, while other commentators argue that the flag was tainted recently when the White South used it as a segregationist symbol, according to Noe. 

"Well, I mean it depends on who you ask," Noe said. "African Americans always saw that flag as a symbol of slavery and second-class status. Whites saw it, North and South, saw it largely as an artifact of war."

Noe said the argument became complicated in the last 70 years. 

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"I'm not sure why Governor Bentley did that," Noe said. "My guess is that he just wanted to take down any flag that was a Confederate flag, because there are people that are starting to argue about things beyond the in particular flag." 

Monuments are now involved in the argument, as Noe said there is a petition going around against the Civil War monument in Birmingham. 

In Richmond, there are monuments that have been vandalized, according to Noe. 

"Frankly I don't expect much to come of it," Noe said. "They [the monuments] don't have the power that the flag does." 

Noe said Auburn used to fly the "Stars and Bars" at Pine Hill cemetery in Auburn by Confederate soldier grave, but hasn't seen in it a while. 

A real issue arose less than 10 years ago when a council member went to Pine Hill cemetery and removed stick Confederate flags from Confederate graves, which became a national issue for a week. 

Noe said people came to the city council meeting to protest and eventually the councilman backed down. 

"The flags have been left alone in the cemetery since," Noe said. "They go up before the Confederate Memorial Day and come down right after. I'm not aware of any complaints." 

Jay Hinton, Montgomery lawyer, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Robert E. Lee Camp #16 in Opelika, because his great-great-great grandfather was killed in Savannah in 1864. 

"I have direct ancestors that have fought for the South in the war for independence," Hinton said. "So I became a member to the organization to help remember that." 

Hinton said he was against the removal of the battle flag. 

According to Hinton, the battle flag that flew under the state flag, was taken down not by legal force, but because of all the controversy surrounding it. 

He also said since the 70s there have been three or four incidents where the constitutionality of flying the flag on Capitol grounds has been called into question. 

"We've already taken it down one time," Hinton said. "We had it taken off the Capitol dome and moved it to a very revered spot in a very appropriate presentation with three other flags ... Disappointed and unhappy with the fact the governor would trade honor for the Confederate dead for political expediency of trying to hush the complainers." 

Hinton said it was "silly to equate the two" when it comes to using the Charleston shooting as a reason to take down the Confederate flag.

 "The flag never got up and shot anybody, the flag never called anybody a n*****, the flag never discriminated against anybody," Hinton said. 

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