Monday, March 30, 2009

Confederate Heritage in the New in Florida

A city’s roots are still planted in a bitter divide, though the fighting ended nearly 150 years ago.

SUNDAY, MAR. 29, 2009

Civil War history and its symbols have generated a lot of heat in Northeast Florida, even as we approach the 150th anniversary of the onset of the war. Here’s a look at a few of the stories that erupted over the last year, and their updates.

January: Sons of Confederate Veterans file a lawsuit over the creation of a specialty license plate to benefit Confederate heritage education. The group’s Florida division argues lawmakers unfairly refused to act on a bill last year to create the plate. The suit, and the fate of the plate, are still pending, possibly holding up a plate to support the St. Johns River.

November: After two years of debate, the Duval County School Board votes to keep the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School. The vote was split along racial lines.

May: Bobby Tillett of Jacksonville attracts attention after a conflict with his employer, BJ’s Wholesale Club. The store told him to take down a large Confederate flag flying from his truck or move it out of the employee parking lot. He has since sued but the case was dismissed in federal court and moved to civil court in Jacksonville. It has not been resolved.

April: Councilwoman Glorious Johnson, who is African-American, sets off a firestorm after joining the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a salute to the Confederate flag and leading them in “Dixie” at their annual Confederate Memorial Day celebration. She also is planning to attend the event this year, on April 26.

It’s the controversy that will never fade away.

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War began, Confederate history and its symbols have touched off one political firestorm after another — and that’s just here in Duval County. In the past year.

History has lots of muddy, gray areas. But debates over it have never seemed more sharply divided than they are today.

The rhetoric that flew over the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School was intense and sometimes bitter on both sides. When debate erupted over an African-American city councilwoman’s embrace of Confederate Memorial Day and about a man kept from an employee parking lot because of a Confederate flag on his truck, the discourse was at times vitriolic.

Even something as simple as a proposed license plate to acknowledge Confederate heritage led in January to a lawsuit that is making some legislators cower. But a “Choose Life” plate that touches the third rail of politics, abortion, is now commonplace.