Hillsborough County (Fla.) commissioners are just the latest elected officials to take up whether a divisive Confederate flag belongs at a building where they do The People’s business.
But what about Hillsborough’s better-known Confederate flag, 30-by-60 feet and flying high atop a pole on private property near busy Interstates 4 and 75 — the banner that must make motorists passing through wonder who lives here?
In the wake of the horrific shooting deaths of nine black people during Bible study in a South Carolina church, leaders across America are confronting the fact that this flag is, to a lot of people, a symbol of deeply entrenched racism slyly disguised as “heritage.”
And that “heritage” can translate to slavery and segregation.
And that this flag would be best preserved in museums and textbooks, not on proud patriotic display at public buildings.
Photographs of the shooting suspect posing with the Confederate flag indicate it was something beyond “heritage” to him.
The murders in Charleston also refocused attention on the controversial flag raised in 2008 east of Tampa.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which oversees the site, told newly re-interested reporters the flag is a “historical marker” and “a reminder to all of us who had ancestors in the war.”
And that it had no role in what happened in South Carolina.
The only way it’s coming down is in a hurricane, they say. And no amount of frustration or appeal from politicians and citizens has dented that resolve thus far.
We can ignore the flag.
We can hope those who support it in the name of history and not racist symbolism will see that its destructive message outweighs the rest.
And that there are better ways to remember.
Actually, there is one thing to be proud of in that flag: It speaks volumes about the right to free speech in America, and how it has to apply to all kinds of speech, even this.
The goal shouldn’t be banning speech.
It should be changing minds.
But can minds change?
Can water move a rock?
South Carolina state Sen. Paul Thurmond, son of the late and legendary segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, is calling for the flag’s removal from the state Capitol grounds, acknowledging both heritage and hate in the mix.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled Texas could lawfully refuse to allow a license plate with a Confederate flag. Even Wal-Mart will no longer sell merchandise bearing the flag that’s ever popular with a segment of its customers.
Just this week, as I flipped through radio stations on my way to work, there was bombastic shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, seeming to talk himself out of putting Confederate flag T-shirts on his website.
The discussion appeared to raise doubt about the shirts’ message that it’s all about heritage, stupid, not hate.
Being a different Hillsborough County Commission than the backwards board that once ruled the land, current commissioners may well opt to take down that Confederate flag currently hanging in the foyer of County Center downtown.
What do you do about the flag by the interstate? You drive past it and know what still exists and what’s left to do.
And you hope one day it will come down freely, the way other walls have fallen when no one believed they would.
Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.