Natalie Allison, Nashville Tennessean, July 18, 2018
The Sons of Confederate Veterans plate, the proceeds from which benefit the organization’s Tennessee division, has been issued by the state since 2004.
At the end of the 2018 fiscal year in June, 3,273 Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates were active in Tennessee, a number 72 percent higher than at the end of the 2015 fiscal year when the display of Confederate flags was thrust into national debate.
The flag became a point of deep division and conflict following the June 2015 killings of nine African-American parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C.
The number of Tennesseans displaying SCV tags steadily increased in 2016 and 2017, according to data provided by the state to USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee, before peaking in the last year.
According to the Department of Revenue, there are 5.6 million registered passenger vehicle plates on the road in Tennessee, meaning the SCV tags account for less than a tenth of a percent.
James Patterson, commander of the Tennessee Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he suspects the increase in motorists ordering the plate can be attributed to the organization’s focus on promoting the initiative amid “all the anti-Confederate rhetoric that’s been going on” surrounding monuments and flags in public spaces.
Sales of the plates serve as a source of revenue for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Tennessee division, including helping fund their ongoing legal fight against the city of Memphis, Patterson said.
The organization sued the city in January after Memphis sold public land to a nonprofit in order to take down statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
According to the Department of Revenue, the Sons of Confederate Veterans received approximately $57,700 from the plates in the 2018 fiscal year.
Of the $61.50 annual fee, $35 is allocated to the plate’s respective beneficiary, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Highway Fund.
Depending on whether the plate is new or being renewed, the beneficiary’s share of that $35 is between $15.85 and $17.50.
Patterson said the money SCV receives primarily goes toward the erection of Confederate monuments on private property, cemetery restoration projects, as well as helping fund the Tennessee State Museum’s conservation of Civil War artifacts.
An example of SCV’s work in recent years with the state museum, Patterson said, was the $12,000 restoration of an overcoat that belonged to Sam Davis, a Confederate soldier from Rutherford County who was hanged by Union troops.
[Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis} described the SCV license plates as “symbols of hate” and said she would reintroduce the bill next session.
In the meantime, Kyle said she also plans to talk with attorneys at the General Assembly on how to prevent funds distributed by the state through the license plates from being used by an organization like SCV to sue a city.