The 35-foot-tall flagpole erected this weekend on Castle Pinckney might not attract much interest, but what eventually flies from it might.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, which bought the early 19th century fortification from the State Ports Authority last year, plans to hoist a series of large, historic flags from the Charleston Harbor landmark, said Philip Middleton, commander of the group’s Fort Sumter Camp.
The first will be a U.S. flag with 15 stars — the nation’s banner around the time the brick fort was originally built.
Later on, other flags from other eras in the fort’s history, including its Confederate era, also will be flown, Middleton said.
“We’re not going to put anything up that’s going to be a stick in anybody’s eye. We’re going to be putting up flags that were historically correct,” he said.
Middleton said the Confederate battle flag — the most commonly known flag and the one that created years of controversy when it flew atop South Carolina’s Statehouse — will not be among them.
“We’ve pretty much ruled that out for the time being,” he said, adding the battle flag never flew atop the fort. “The only reason we’d be doing that would be to make a statement, and I don’t think we need to be doing that.”
The fort, finished around 1810, has sat abandoned for decades on Shutes Folly, a small island in Charleston Harbor about a mile east of Waterfront Park. Its new flags would measure 8 feet by 12 feet and would be seen from the park, Charleston’s Battery and, of course, by those on passing boats.
It’s unclear how big a fuss new flags might cause. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley did not return messages for comment Monday.
Riley led a 100-mile-long protest march from Charleston to Columbia 12 years ago to encourage lawmakers to remove a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP branch, said she was disappointed to hear Confederate flags might fly from the fort. Even if the flag is not recognized by many, she said she would raise the issue with the State Ports Authority and others once it’s flown.
“I’m almost speechless,” she said. “Just as I think we’re making progress, we find that we’re not, at least as much as we should be.”
But Middleton noted a series of Confederate and national flags also fly over Fort Sumter, adding, “I never heard anybody complain about that.”
Middleton said the Sons of Confederate Veterans hope their new flag displays will provide fun and education.
“We’re not trying to create controversy,” he said. “We’re trying to educate if we possibly can.”