The Carroll County Board of Supervisors will take some time before deciding the fate of the Confederate Flag at the Historic Carroll County Courthouse.
On Friday, the state of South Carolina removed the Confederate Flag from the state capitol building in response to a recent tragedy in Charleston, S.C. in which a white man, Dylann Roof, shot and killed nine African-American churchgoers. The Confederate Flag and other signs on the Confederacy have also been coming down across Dixie since the tragedy.
Recently, local historian Gary Marshall contended now was the time for Carroll County to join others across the South in taking down a symbol he called racist. The debate actually circles back to 10 years ago when the Carroll County Board of Supervisors voted to allow the Confederate Flag and other American War-era flags to be flown on 15-20 different dates throughout the year at the Historic Carroll County Courthouse.
The Carroll County Board of Supervisors took up the issue during its meeting Monday night. Those hoping for an answer will have to wait a while as Chairman Phil McCraw said the board would take the issue under advisement. It seemed to be a popular decision for the many that came in support of the Confederate Flag.
“I feel like under the circumstances, the best thing we can do as a board is to take this opportunity to think about this, go back to our respective districts and talk to our constituents and really find out how they feel about this issue, whether they are for it or against it,” McCraw said. “I am not saying we need to rush right into this. I think we need to do what the majority of our constituents want us to do. And I would say the best thing we could do is take this issue under advisement until a later date…I don’t think we need to make any kind of rash decision on this. I think it is something we need to try to talk to a lot of people in our communities because after all, they elected us to represent them.”
Even though McCraw’s words put any potential action on hold, several supporters of the Confederate Flag spoke during Citizens’ Time. Tryphena Horsley said she feels like the issue is getting out of hand in this country.
“Those people that were shot were Christians regardless of what color they were. The young man who waved the flag, it’s not like he carried that flag to the shooting or anything like that. He was seen on Facebook waving the flag. And you are always going to have racists. I don’t care, 200 years from now, there is going to be racists,” Horsley said. “But the flag doesn’t mean racism to me. What it means to me is a way of life that we have here in the South.”
Horsley said she feels like we are all slaves to the government now because our freedoms are disappearing.
“To me, as long as the flag is being presented in a historic manner at our historic courthouse, there should be no issue,” Horsley said.
McCraw said it’s not a non-issue, however, because supervisors want to hear what the people of Carroll County have to say.
“That is the reason we don’t want to rush into doing anything,” McCraw said.
Jerry W. Cooper with the Jubal Early Sons of the Confederate Veterans Camp #1691 signed up to speak, but decided not to since the board decided to wait on the matter. Andy Jackson, Commander of the Jubal Early SCV Camp, did speak.
“I hope everybody realizes a flag has never killed anybody. And every flag has had a lot of good men and women die for it,” Jackson said. “It’s a sacred thing for the military – the colors. The ones that have been in the military, you know. The rest of you, I couldn’t really explain it to you.”
The county already went through a controversy about the Confederate Flag 10 years ago, Jackson said, noting two different TV stations and three newspapers came. The board of supervisors approved the motion 4-2 to allow the SCV Camp to fly different flags on the Historic Flagpole it donated 15-20 days a year.
“As far as I am concerned, and I think most people in this county are going to agree with me, for us this flag is a nonissue. The issue is in the localities where they have these flags flying on the poles 24/7, rubbing it in people’s places,” Jackson said. “Here we never had one that’s flown that much. We have never had a (Confederate) Naval Jack flying on the pole, never had the (Confederate) Battle Flag flying on the poles, and that is the proper way to do it. The poles always have had the National Flag (of the Confederacy) and that is all they have used the last 10 years over there. Of course, 99 percent of the time it has been the Virginia State Flag on that pole. The rest of the time it has been the U.S. flags from Betsy Ross up, and then one time every year we have the Confederate Flag for Confederate Memorial Day.”
Jackson noted that in 2012, when the SCV Camp recognized all the units from Carroll County that fought in the Civil War, the First National Flag flew for an extra 12 days, but it was for a historic moment – when the first companies from Carroll left to do battle in the War Between the States.
“And if you go back and look at the minutes, it will tell you that is what it was to be used for, for any war that had anything to do with the citizens of Carroll County,” Jackson said. “Carroll County has always answered their call no matter what flag was there. I want to thank you for taking an honest look at this, doing it the right way, getting your facts together and representing your people thorough.”
Edith Whitaker from Galax said the flag is an inanimate object that’s being attacked over something it had nothing to do with. If there is hate in people’s hearts for others, that’s between them and God, she said.
“I feel like even though the flag is an issue and it seems in ways trivial, that it kind of perpetuates more things as far as our freedoms are concerned,” Whitaker said. “And by acquiescing to the theory or accusations that the people from the South had family members to fight and die in the war, with that being an accusation lodged against us rather than our heritage and interest and respect for those who have fallen before us, I think if we are silent about it and continue to kind of forfeit our rights, it is almost saying, ‘Yes, that is true. We are hate people.’”
Whitaker said she thinks the flags and symbols of the Confederacy coming down are a way of making people feel like something is being done.
“We from the South I don’t think need to be convicted over something we had nothing to do with. The flag means something to us and it is not a hate thing,” she said. “It is just recognizing our ancestors and what they went through.”
Sue Orr of Galax said she is very passionate about her family history, much of which involves Carroll County. She said she was there to speak for her ancestors, family and her grandchildren.
“I think it is absolutely important we remember our history because history does repeat itself. I think the flag is a trivial part of this to me because it was a battle flag. You could put the Bonnie Blue (another Confederate Flag) up there tomorrow and they wouldn’t know the difference, most people,” Orr said. “If this flag comes down, what is next? Will the statue that honors them be next? I think when you are talking to the general public here and all your constituents, you will find that history, family and our heritage will outweigh the fact that we are not acquiescing to the politically correct police in this country.”
Bonnie Reeves of Independence is President of the Jefferson Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Galax. She said the Confederate troops fought under several flags. The Battle Flag was never the official Confederate Flag, she said.
“When we let the flag go, we let our history go. I don’t think any of us here want to let our history go,” Reeves said. “Our children aren’t being taught history as it is. Our organization is the only one getting the history across to the young people.”
Myrtle Bryant of Hillsville said she stands up for the Confederate Flag because she had a great-great grandfather fight for it. She is proud of that.
“I don’t think this flag has anything to do with what is going on. And I would appreciate it if you all would keep this in memory of our ancestors,” Bryant said. “We don’t need this flag taken down I don’t feel like. I have grandchildren. I would like for my grandchildren to know who their relatives are.”
During Supervisors’ Time, Supervisor Dr. Tom Little said he felt like the board would come to a conclusion on the matter that will meet the needs of the county’s citizens. McCraw said he was proud of everybody speaking in such a “Carroll County way.”
“It makes me proud. There was no ugliness, no bitterness, just stating your opinion,” McCraw said. “We want to hear what people think before making our decision. And hearing what we heard tonight helps us make our decision.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN