Near Freeway: Giant Confederate Flag?

Jessica Vander Velde, St. Petersburg (Florida), May 31, 2008

Next year, a giant Confederate flag may tower above the tree line near the junction of Interstate 75 and Interstate 4.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans wants drivers in the Tampa area to see the massive flag—30 feet high and 50 feet long—atop a 139-foot pole, the highest the Federal Aviation Authority would allow. It would be lit at night.

With the pole already in the ground and building permits in hand, the group is on its way to having what it calls the “world’s largest” Confederate flag in place by mid 2009. The group just needs about $30,000 more, said Douglas Dawson, Florida division commander.

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The county has wrestled with sensitive Confederate issues in the past. In 1994, the Confederate flag was removed from the county seal. Last year, county commissioners recognized Confederate commander Robert E. Lee on the same day they honored a black civic leader. Commissioners later apologized and haven’t since recognized Lee.

It’s the commissioners’ responsibility to make sure plans don’t move forward, Stokes said. The flag would send the wrong message about the county and it would be embarrassing because many visitors use the roads, he said.

Code enforcement officers won’t be able to stop the project because flags were removed from county sign regulations in 2004. County Commissioner Kevin White, whose district includes the flagpole site, could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Flags Across Florida started about eight years ago, after the Confederate flag was removed from the Capitol in Tallahassee. So far the group has two major flags erected: one in Suwannee County along Interstate 75 and one in Havana along U.S. 27.

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He hopes people who are offended by the flag will drive to the memorial and view the plaques honoring Confederate soldiers. They plan to have one dedicated to black Confederate veterans, he said.

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But he’s worried that it might offend a black employee of his, who was angered by the sighting of a Confederate flag on an earlier assignment.

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Dawson, the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Florida commander, said he knows a giant Confederate flag flying 24 hours a day over two of the Tampa area’s busiest roads will cause controversy.

“We can’t do anything but explain to people what the truth is,” said Dawson, of Pensacola. {snip}

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